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UK Politics

Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Long-winded George Osborne really must mind his language


George Osborne may feel like he is on a roll, but  that’s no excuse for serially violating the English language.

“Growing” the economy is so common it can be overlooked. But not “we said we would recover the economy and the recovery is taking place.” No, Chancellor! “Recover” (transitively) is what you do to old sofas. Or possibly to something that’s fallen behind them.

But then this was the (even more) dumbed down Treasury Questions. No sooner had the cheers of Tory backbenchers (apparently ecstatic just to be in the same room as Osborne) faded, than one, Jeremy LeFroy asked for his “assessment” of the Government’s fuel duty freeze.

With superhuman restraint Osborne waited a nanosecond before giving Labour a violent kicking.

“Petrol will cost a full 20p per litre less than if we had stuck with the previous government’s hated fuel duty escalator,” he announced. And much more in this vein.

So much more that he was brutally cut off. “Order. The Chancellor will resume his seat. The answer was not just too long – it was far too long,” Speaker John Bercow shouted, so resembling the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass that you were ready to hear him declare: “Off with his head.”

The Chancellor might once have been fazed by this, but he merely grinned like a delinquent schoolboy contemplating horrible revenge.

He was ready for Ed Balls, who reminded him of his  not-to-be fulfilled 2010 promises to “balance the books” and see living standards rising “steadily and sustainably” by 2015.  Accusing the shadow Chancellor of having “fled the scene” after his well-publicised altercation with a stationary Peugeot, Osborne declared: “He has apologised to the lady whose car he crashed into - why does he not apologise to the British people?”

But Balls was ready too, with a car crash reference of his own, to the dominatrix with whom the Chancellor had been notoriously photographed in his student days. “If this Chancellor wants to have a discussion about whiplash we can do that any day of the week – Mr, Mrs or Mistress…..” The grin faded for a moment.

The new City minister (and HS2 dissident) Andrea Leadsom, was brimming with confidence, strikingly since she has not always had the best of personal relations with the Chancellor.

But she was unabashed by shadow Chief Secretary Chris Leslie’s pointed welcome for “the Prime Minister’s decision to appoint her to the Chancellor’s Department.”

And by Labour’s Julie Hilling’s oblique reference to the tax arrangements of the property company Ms Leadsom founded with her husband in 2003. When the Chancellor had threatened: “‘If you are hiding your money offshore, we are coming to get you’ did he mean ‘coming to get you to work in the Treasury’”? she asked.

So this was the Teflon Treasury. Teflon always wears off in the end. But, for now, the opposition are having quite a hard time rubbing it away.