The UK Chancellor George Osborne has been doing the media rounds in a public relations push ahead of his big budget speech to parliament on 16 March. But the top Tory's efforts looked like they backfired when he appeared on BBC One's The Andrew Marr Show over the weekend.
That's because Osborne was accused of cowardice after he failed to sit alongside Labour's Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell near the end of the flagship interview programme. The segment, otherwise known as the "sofa spot", usually sees two of Marr's top guests locked into debate.
Osborne had gone head-to-head with former Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls and ex-Chancellor Alistair Darling in the past. But McDonnell was not given the chance to attempt to tear his Conservative rival apart on live TV just days before the budget.
A Labour source claimed to IBTimes UK that Osborne's people refused the sofa showdown between the 64-year-old shadow chancellor and the 44-year-old Tory. "Basically, they are scared of someone looking like the older senior politician asking awkward questions. It's pathetically cowardly," the source added.
However, the editor of the Andrew Marr Show denied Labour's account. Rob Burley told IBTimes UK that he had not asked Osborne or McDonnell to do the sofa spot.
The BBC man also explained to others on social media site Twitter that the one-on-one segment does not always happen and he used his editorial prerogative to give Marr and Osborne some extra interview time. The Treasury declined to comment.
The claims from Labour came after Osborne warned he would be unveiling further spending cuts in his budget. "My message in this Budget is that the world is a more uncertain place than at any time since the financial crisis and we need to act now so we don't pay later," he told Marr. "That is why I need to find additional savings equivalent to 50p in every £100 the government spends by the end of the decade, because we've got to live within our means to stay secure."
Meanwhile, McDonnell attacked Osborne on the programme and said a Labour government would make more long-term investments in the UK economy to "withstand the global headwinds".
"I would make sure that the wealth creators, the businesses, the entrepreneurs, the representatives of the workers themselves are the ones who advise government on the nature of investment," the shadow chancellor added.