THE SKETCH: Gullible Chancellor shouldn't rely on what politicians tell him

Click to follow
The Independent Online
JACK STRAW spoke so slightingly of "carping from the sidelines" that I walked straight out of the chamber. No one cares to be insulted like that. It isn't clever or funny. The upshot reflects very poorly on Mr Straw: I can't report on his statement about the management of the European Union over the next generation. There was going to be a "systematic review" is all I heard before leaving. Sleep well, my children, the systematic review has only just begun.

Vincent Cable carped well for the Liberal Democrats. He considered the outpouring of tsunami compassion from the Treasury. Wasn't it the case, Mr Cable asked, that Indonesia's debts weren't actually being cancelled but merely postponed for a moment and that the postponed payments were being rolled up in the capital and would eventually attract interest?

So far from enjoying debt relief, Indonesia would be paying "interest on the interest"? "Complex but wrong" was how Gordon Brown responded, in an answer of such complexity that it confirmed Mr Cable's point.

Fifty quarters of growth! What a record. "This Government has delivered 50 consecutive quarters of economic growth!" Paul Boateng told the House, babyishly.

Fifty quarters takes us back to mid-1992. There followed five years of Tory government, plus two years application of Ken Clarke's spending limits by New Labour. That puts 28 of the 50 quarters firmly to the Tories' credit.

The Tories are too ineffectual to claim that for themselves; no one knows why any more.

Mr Brown was asked how he could be sure that the debt-relief money would be applied to health and education and not to arms or to the personal enrichment of African leaders.

Mr Brown made us laugh with his answer. The leaders of the countries he visited "told him" so.

Why is that funny? Politicians can't understand each other in this country. They have dinner and come to a firm personal agreement that is interpreted in two opposite ways thereafter. Both say: "He told me so."

And look, in one morning, Stephen Timms tells us so: he says our halved savings ratio is a sign of a healthy savings industry. Mr Brown tells us so: he says our productivity growth (well below the G8 average and a third of China's) is cause for celebration. And that Leonard Rossiter lookalike tells us so: he says "there are no plans for a windfall tax" on fuel company profits.

Andrew Tyrie for the Tories pointed out that this was precisely the verbal formula used to deny there was going to be an increase in national insurance contributions (or indeed, invade Iraq, bomb Iran, abolish regiments or anything else they are about to do but haven't actually signed the execution orders).

Without wanting to carp, if Mr Brown is going to save Africa he really mustn't rely on what he's told by politicians.