Ed Balls has not had a good day. He has just given his post-autumn statement briefing, at which he argued that Labour had set the agenda for this statement with Ed Miliband’s energy price freeze pledge. He’s right, but as James explained in his blog, while Labour set the terms of debate for the autumn, the Tories have just set the agenda for the winter. The autumn was about the cost of living and energy prices, now the winter will be about credibility.

This of course assumes that the Conservatives follow up a good day today with an aggressive campaign over the next few weeks. That has not always been a given, but CCHQ is getting better at driving home clear messages, and MPs and ministers are growing more confident about popping up on the airwaves to defend the government. But Ed Balls wants to stick to the cost of living line. He told journalists this afternoon that:

‘This cost of living debate is going to be dominant in 2014 because of this OBR forecast.’

The OBR’s forecast is that there will only be any serious real income growth in 2015. And because of that, Balls feels confident that he’s got at least another 12 months of being able to talk about the cost of living.

But he didn’t seem to have much confidence today, and his colleagues have been remarking on this privately, that he seems to have lost the wind from his sails. Balls tried to fight back on his poor performance in the Chamber at the briefing, arguing that ‘we’ve decided to name Matt Hancock ‘Lola’ as he’s the real Chancellor’s poodle’. He is on to something there: in our Autumn Statement special podcast, James explains that Osborne set up a ‘Treasury Support Group’ of Tory MPs including Hancock who try to get under Ed Balls’ skin by heckling at PMQs. You can listen below:

Tags: Autumn Statement 2013, Cost of living, Ed Balls, Treasury, UK politics