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Just how long can Balls last in new role as quiet man?

THERE is a new quiet man of Westminster politics.

Step forward Edward Balls.

Regular PMQ-watchers will know the interjections and gesticulations of the Shadow Chancellor are the things that really get up the ever so aristocratic nose of the Prime Minister, who cannot hide his contempt for the honourable member for Morley.

But as ding followed dong, Ed No 2 sat passively on the frontbench, even when Tory backbenchers tried to goad him by shouting "Balls!". At one point, it was noticeable how the Shadow Chancellor held his hands together as though handcuffed.

It seems Labour HQ had a brainstorming session over Christmas and decided to adopt a new "serious and sober" strategy, believing the regular punch-up is just not working for them.

Red Ed, calm and controlled, focused his first attack on RBS, asking Flashman to cap its bonuses at 100% of salaries, suggesting a "bonus of £1 million should be quite enough". Indeed.

But the shiny-haired premier promised to veto any attempt to increase the overall pay and bonus bill at the publicly-owned bank. Which, of course, is not the same thing, particularly as staff numbers at RBS have fallen, so the overall bill would fall anyway.

Yet the chief comrade's broadside fizzled out as Blue Dave goaded Ed by saying he rose "with all the moral authority of Reverend Flowers" and wondered where the Labour leader's apology was for making a mess of RBS in the first place. Ed No 1 made the mistake of remaining seated and when he rose a few minutes later to ask about housing, he corrected himself on the numbers. This only allowed the PM to quip: "We've just had a demonstration of the grasp of maths that was involved at the Treasury. No wonder we had banks collapsing..."

As Ed No 2 remained quiet, the Tories declared Plan B dead. Dave jumped up and noted: "The biggest transformation of all is the silence of the Shadow Chancellor. There's a big debate about banking but he wasn't allowed on the radio; he won't be speaking in the House of Commons. They have a novel idea: you hide your Shadow Chancellor by leaving him on the front bench."

The Yorkshire bruiser quietly grinned a contemptuous grin.

So how long will Labour's new "serious and sober" strategy last? An aide to Red Ed made clear: "We will see how the Prime Minister responds." Not very long, then.

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