The Sketch: Christmas sprit sparks a rare bonhomie among Osborne and company
Donald Macintyre writes political sketches for The Independent, having been Jerusalem correspondent since 2004, covering Israel and the Occupied Territories, as well as travelling for the paper to Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Egypt. As Political Editor and then Chief Political Commentator, he previously covered the John Major and early Tony Blair era. He has written for the Daily Express, Sunday Times, Times and Sunday Telegraph, and Sunday Correspondent. He is the author of Mandelson and the Making of New Labour (2000).
Thursday 13 December 2012
It’s Christmas on the Treasury Select Committee! When Labour’s Pat McFadden, arriving late at today’s session on the Autumn Statement, explained he had been at his son’s nativity play – in which the young McFadden played a shepherd – George Osborne gracefully confessed that he had only ever played a “triangle” at such events.
True, this bonhomie was not sustained, including in the pointed exchanges McFadden himself had later with the Chancellor, in which he tried and failed to persuade Osborne to name the embarrassingly large figure – over £200bn – by which borrowing had exceeded the totals forecast in 2010.
But seasonal references could not be long suppressed. In what fell just short of a hackneyed comparison with Scrooge, Labour’s John Mann asked Osborne, as “the first Chancellor since Neville Chamberlain to see food banks” in British cities: “What is your festive message to those queuing up?” Gamely, Osborne said it was a “hard road” but one that “leads to a better future”.
The Christmas spirit may also have restrained Andrew Tyrie, the Tory committee chairman, who as a Treasury special adviser was Nigel Lawson’s second – rather large – brain when Osborne was barely out of St Paul’s, and who is probably the MP best able to make ministers anxious.
There was a hint of his sternly donnish impatience with obfuscation when, pressing the Chancellor on whether he saw the merits of breaking up the partly state-owned RBS, he said after a long reply: “I couldn’t spot whether that was yes or no. Do you want to have another go?” (The answer, it now turned out, was no).
He was clearly sceptical of the Chancellor’s optimism about the eurozone’s recent step towards a banking union that might ease a crisis which, as Tyrie crisply pointed out, Osborne himself had insisted was the reason growth and deficit figures were so much worse than forecast.
Tyrie also pressed Osborne on whether he agreed with the newly appointed Bank of England Governor that its current 2 per cent inflation target should be modified to promote growth. Mark Carney was a welcome part of a “debate going on” on monetary policy, the Chancellor said. But he had “no plans” at present to change the framework. Largely, however, Tyrie left the interrogation to the other committee members. Which may help explain why Osborne left the session more or less unscathed.
- 1 Mario Balotelli: Staff at arson-hit Manchester Dogs' Home convinced Liverpool striker is behind five-figure donation
- 2 Friends 20th anniversary: Alison Jackson photographs reunited cast
- 3 There is literally not a single woman in this iPhone 6 queue
- 4 Hitler’s former food taster reveals the horrors of the Wolf’s Lair
- 5 Scottish independence: Tory revolt against 'devo max' grows as Rail Minister Claire Perry joins
Scottish independence referendum: Frankie Boyle reacts to nation's 'No' vote - 'To be fair, I've always hated Scotland'
Scottish independence live: Scotland gives a clear 'No' in historic referendum - as it happened
Iranian blogger found guilty of insulting Prophet Mohammad on Facebook sentenced to death
Scottish independence: Tory revolt against 'devo max' grows as Rail Minister Claire Perry joins
Hitler’s former food taster reveals the horrors of the Wolf’s Lair
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter
Scottish independence: The Queen breaks silence on referendum debate – as think tank warns of £14bn black hole if Scotland votes Yes
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...
£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...
£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...
£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...