Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Even the Treasury’s clever chaps don’t have all the answers

 

Asked a particularly ticklish question about sales tax during the 1964 election the then Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas Home said: “A lot of clever chaps are thinking about it at this moment.”

What Sir Alec, who was referring to senior Treasury officials, regarded as a perfectly reassuring answer then, wouldn’t wash  now, of course. Chancellors, for example, are expected to be their own “clever chaps”, answering detailed questions on their budgets from MPs as George Osborne did for more than two hours yesterday.

There was nevertheless a flavour of Sir Alec’s response in the Government’s defence of its new mortgage guarantee scheme. It started when Nick Clegg, pressed by Harriet Harman on whether those buying second homes would benefit, said that was  certainly not the “intention”, adding: “The Treasury is working on the details …… to ensure that  it does exactly what it is intended to do.”

Anyone hoping that this might have been done before the Budget, would hardly have been reassured by the Chancellor’s saying that while the purpose was to help first-time buyers, he didn’t want to penalise borrowers who temporarily needed two mortgages during a divorce. “I want to get this scheme right but the intention of it is absolutely clear.”

Andrew Tyrie, the committee’s Tory chairman, once a Treasury “clever chap” himself, asked Osborne whether “we are just ploughing money back into the boom-bust property cycle”. No, said the Chancellor, he didn’t “detect we are in the middle of the housing boom”. It was an answer, but not actually to the question he had been asked. Tyrie said a little irritably at one point that he didn’t doubt the Chancellor’s good “intentions”. You felt he was biting back the observation that the road to hell is paved with such things. 

Osborne had brought Treasury Permanent Secretary Sir Nicholas Macpherson, who was pressed by the Liberal Democrat John Thurso on RBS’s failure to lend to businesses. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to unload its “dodgy assets” into a “bad bank” and create a separate “good bank” which would lend more willingly?  The answer was, to put it politely, less clear than the question.  So much so that Tyrie more  or less instructed him to look at the idea again.

Macpherson addressed the Lib Dem quaintly as “Viscount Thurso”. True, Thurso was the first hereditary peer to enter the Commons. But he’s normally known as “Mr”. Was it ultra-politeness? Or a sign that even “clever chaps” can get a little flustered?

News
i100
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
Arts and Entertainment
James Dean on the set of 'Rebel without a Cause', 1955
photographyHe brought documentary photojournalism to Tinseltown, and in doing so, changed the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Front-Office Developer (C#, .NET, Java,Artificial Intelligence)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Front-Of...

C++ Quant Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Java/Calypso Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Java/Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, J...

SQL Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer SQL, C#, Stored Procedures, MDX...

Day In a Page

Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing