Balls is silent chancellor - PM

Hillingdon Times: David Cameron says Labour "hid" shadow chancellor Ed Balls during Prime Minister's Questions David Cameron says Labour "hid" shadow chancellor Ed Balls during Prime Minister's Questions

David Cameron dubbed Ed Balls the "silent chancellor" today, after the Labour Party insisted it would continue with its new-look "sober approach" to Prime Minister's Questions.

In stark contrast to last week's measured session following the death of Labour MP Paul Goggins, this week's exchange at the despatch box was loud, but one-sided.

Mr Cameron used the opportunity to taunt the shadow chancellor.

"There's a big debate today on banking, but he wasn't allowed on the radio," the PM told the Commons.

"He won't be speaking in the House of Commons, they (Labour) have got a novel idea: you hide your shadow chancellor by leaving him on the front bench."

An unusually restrained Mr Balls might have earned himself a new nickname but Labour insisted it was testing out the new style and claimed that the Prime Minister had failed to behave "in a prime ministerial way".

Asked if Labour leader Ed Miliband had ordered Mr Balls to tone down his usually vociferous contributions to Prime Minister's Questions, a senior Labour source said : "We have said we will approach PMQs in a serious and sober fashion. That's what we are doing.

"These are serious subjects, which need to be pursued in a serious manner."

The source said that the more sober approach adopted by the Labour leadership at last week's PMQs was not simply a response to the announcement earlier that day of the death of MP Paul Goggins.

"Ed (Miliband) has wanted to try to approach it in a more serious fashion for some time. He was talking about it over Christmas and we will attempt to do so.

"A lot depends on how the Prime Minister reacts. The Prime Minister didn't react in a very prime ministerial way this week."

The comment appeared to be a reference to Mr Cameron's jibe that Mr Miliband had the "moral authority" of disgraced banker Paul Flowers and his attempt to raise a laugh from the Labour leader correcting a figure from "quarter of a million" to "250,000" and apologising for the "mistake".

Mr Cameron said of the mishap: "We've just had a demonstration of the grasp of maths that was involved at the Treasury (under the previous Labour government). No wonder we had banks collapsing and all the rest of it."

Tory backbencher Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) joked about comments Mr Miliband previously made in relation to French president Francois Hollande.

"The leader of the opposition has said what Hollande is doing in France, I want to do in Britain," he said, to roars of laughter from Conservative benches.

"Given recent events across the Channel, do you agree with me that this is completely at odds with our long-term economic plan?"

Mr Cameron replied: "I didn't catch all of president Hollande's press conference yesterday, because I was appearing in front of the Liaison Committee, but one thing I did notice is that the French proposals now are to cut spending in order to cut taxes in order to make the economy more competitive."

He added: "Perhaps the shadow chancellor and his new silent form will want to consider some of these ideas and recognise that this revolution, of making business more competitive, of trying to win in the global race - that's a proper plan for the economy."

Mr Cameron dismissed Mr Miliband's Commons performance after he pressed the Prime Minister to say where he stood on bankers' bonuses at state-owned RBS.

Mr Cameron said: "You come here every week to complain about a problem created by the Labour Party. Last week it was betting, this week it was banking. You rise up with all the moral authority of (disgraced former Co-op boss) Reverend Flowers - where's the apology of the mess you (Labour) made of RBS in the first place?"

A question from another Tory MP helped Mr Cameron deliver a further blow to the Labour Party.

Ealing Central and Acton MP Angie Bray asked: "What is the point of anyone clinging on to a plan B when plan A is so obviously working?"

Mr Cameron replied: "It's not just plan B we're not hearing about any more. They seemed to have stopped talking about the cost of living, they stopped that one; how the deficit wouldn't come down, remember how they told us that growth would never come? They told us that we were going to lose a million jobs rather than gain a million jobs, but the biggest transformation of all is the silence of the shadow chancellor."

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