Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Vince Cable really understands Labour’s language

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During Commons questions today Labour's Barry Gardiner, whose default speaking style is a velvety, lachrymose murmur, asked Vince Cable “What are the Government doing to tackle the problems of input resource price spikes and to incentivise infrastructure in the circular economy to cope with that?”

Good question, Barry. But what on earth did it mean? Obligingly, Cable offered a tentative translation “I think that the honourable Gentleman is referring specifically to energy costs.” This was a revelation. We would never have guessed without the Business Secretary, who as well as an economics PhD and a talent for ballroom dancing, has a working knowledge of Gardinerese. Not for nothing is he  Secretary of State for skills!

Language is a problem at BIS questions. Apprenticeships are being increased under a “trailblazer process.” Meetings between MPs and local businesspeople are “listening events.” True, the more grown-up ministers try to avoid clunky coalition-speak. today, for example, you couldn't help wondering whether Michael Fallon might be putting invisible quotation marks round the “arc of prosperity” improbably identified in Lancashire.

Not so his irrepressible colleague Matt Hancock, who announced-redundantly - that  “I am a fan of [the government's] long term economic plan.”  So much so, indeed, that “ I have found a copy in my pocket if he wants one.” This sounded like a joke, except that since the plan actually exists as a (short) official document, it was probably true.

It's hard to define what's so irritating about Hancock.  His rash self-comparison with Churchill, Disraeli and Pitt, when discussing his meteoric 2012 promotion, is long past. But for all his zeal, he still conveys a lingering sense-fair or not - that he takes nothing so seriously as the future career prospects of M. Hancock.

 Shadow business Secretary Chuka Umunna asked Cable why he had allowed “the red tape baron” Iain Duncan Smith to impose burdensome new reporting requirements on self-employed universal credit claimants. This was clever since 1 it savaged Duncan Smith while associating Labour with small business and deregulation. And 2 Cable -despite desultorily defending the new regime - almost certainly agrees with Umunna.