Eric Picklezzzzz: Balls accuses local government secretary of falling asleep
This was, in the view of the opposition, one of the most boring Budgets ever. Ed Balls' verdict is that it was "underwhelming". And given that he struggled to find any particular policies to kick up a stink about afterwards, that epithet seems to apply to the opposition's response, too.
None of that matters, though, because Balls had a much bigger, more important story for journalists gathered outside the Commons chamber this afternoon: Eric Pickles fell asleep during George Osborne's hour-long Budget statement "for a quite extended period of time".
This is a difficult situation for any opposition frontbench. The shadow chancellor and leader of the opposition were "worried", Balls explains, because they didn't want Pickles to miss anything important like massive local government spending cuts.
This, it turns out, was why Balls was observed making a gentle nudging gesture towards Vince Cable, who was seated – perhaps 'squidged' might be a better word – next to Pickles.
"We just politely suggested to Vince Cable that he should wake him up," the shadow chancellor says. Unfortunately Cable's efforts were not especially successful, according to Balls. Pickles, who may have been dozing, began nodding his head "knowingly" at the contents of the speech, while keeping his eyes closed.
And then came the intervention of the prime minister.
"There was a bit of kerfuffle going on," Balls said.
"I think what actually happened is I think the prime minister looked over, stared daggers at Vince, and Vince might have then given a quite stronger nudge."
This appears to have done the trick. Order was restored. The Cabinet's collective consciousness was back up to 100%. Which, in a Budget statement, is just as well.