Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Don’t vote Labour, they’ll put street lights back on!

Sketch: When it was pointed out that the 'special event' resembled a leadership hustings, Theresa May shook her head with an oddly knowing smile

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It all felt so exciting. The so-called electoral “air war” had begun. So much so that we were about as high as you can be in SW1 without actually flying – in a 29th-floor “dramatic space for any special event with stunning views across the capital” aptly called Altitude, where according to its owners, “incredible experiences await you”.

In this last respect, Monday’s “special event”, George Osborne’s “Cost Analysis of Labour Party Policy” did not disappoint. It was indeed “incredible”. When the BBC’s Nick Robinson pointed out that it specified “not a single promise” by Labour to reverse local authority cuts in what his Treasuryish-looking red document warned was a cost of £3.35bn, the Chancellor was obliged to explain. Labour had been jolly rude about local authority cuts on – say – social care and libraries or street lighting and “the implication” was they would restore them.

Never mind that “don’t vote Labour, they’ll put your street lights back on” is a less than irresistible rallying cry. This sounded awfully like what, in unkind circles, might be called making it up.

It was possibly to spread the blame for this underwhelming event that Osborne dragged along four cabinet colleagues. As a result, what he optimistically called the “team” looked like participants in a cross between a TV game show and – thanks to Scandinavian-looking white lecterns – a multi-party TV debate from Borgen.

In such a case, the politicians would be competing against each other. As perhaps they were. Not a rather wild-eyed Nicky Morgan, nor William Hague, who must be bowing out with ever-greater relief if this is what he’s signed up to for the next four months. When it was pointed out that it resembled a leadership hustings, Theresa May shook her head with an oddly knowing smile, as if she was somehow in on this dangerous joke.

Even Osborne could not resist, saying that “in our party our leader is one of our strongest assets…” One of? The others, he seemed to imply, consist largely of G. Osborne. The third possible candidate, Sajid Javid, warned extravagantly that Labour would engulf the nation in debt “forever” before repeating the day’s mantra: a choice between (Tory) “competence” or (Labour) “chaos”.

After it ended, journalists joined the suited Tory supporters – donors? – who packed the hall, in an unseemly scrum for the only two lifts that seemed to be working. For a few moments, at least, more chaos than competence.

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