VAT's the story about the price of bananas

Labour members are beginning to enjoy having a leader who does not fall in the sea or wear silly hats
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The Independent Online
Yesterday I received a press release entitled "Conservative Party News". BANANAS FOR BROWN, was the heading, and it purported to be a statement from the Thatcherite intellectual MP, Alan Duncan.

It went on, "Here is a bunch of bananas for Gordon Brown, who has made a complete monkey of himself with this disgraceful lie and smear [ie over putative Tory plans to levy VAT on food]. Labour is desperately trying to cover up for the fact that they have pounds 30bn of spending pledges and don't know where the money is coming from". Unfortunately no bananas were attached to the press release. Yet another broken Tory promise?

Labour would say so. All their efforts were bent towards making their new "nightmare fifth Tory term" charge stick; all Tory ones to painting a picture of current plenitude and past disaster. In the heat and smoke of this mock battle, concepts such as information, accountability, argument and resolution stood little chance.

The day had "started in the gutter", argued Treasury minister, Michael Jack. But the game was given away by his colleague, Philip Oppenheim, answering yet another query about VAT. Labour's campaign was "so silly, so catty, it makes demon eyes look positively cerebral, quite spiritual, in comparison". Oh yes.

It was left to yet another Treasury frontbencher, Angela Knight, to do most of the Tory cheerleading. Ms Knight resembles nothing so much as the principal boy in a village pantomime, with a lean and muscular frame, the haircut of a 70s male rock-star and a ruthless way of dealing with the poetry of her brief. Her flat tones rolled out the stats and the claims with machine-gun relentlessness, as her hand adjusted the ride of her skirt along her boyish thighs.

Tourism was booming. "Blackpool", she averred, "has more tourists than Portugal and more hotel beds than Greece". I was just wondering how it was that Greece did not close down every time it hosted a party conference, when William Waldegrave helpfully blamed high taxation levels on a previous government. "We have the lowest personal taxation since 1915. Then the Liberals came into the war cabinet and started to finance the war by borrowing," he charged. The Tories presumably would have funded it through VAT on clogs.

This nonsense was still raging when the Prime Minister entered the Chamber to cheerful cries of "where's the 'at?" from Labour members, who are beginning to enjoy having a leader who does not fall into the sea or wear silly 'ats. Question one, from Labour's William O'Brien, was about VAT. Had not the Prime Minister promised not to put VAT on fuel - and then put VAT on fuel? Mr Major blustered. Tony Blair asked the same question three times. Thrice Mr Major stonewalled, but this will avail him nothing since, earlier, Labour's Alastair Darling triumphantly claimed to have incriminating film of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor together, discussing VAT on food.

The Prime Minister referred two other VAT inquiries to the answer he hadn't given several times, but by now the assaults were like firing siege catapults at flattened walls. Thus it is that, 18 years after "Labour isn't working", the Conservatives are finally reaping what they then sowed. I went off to commission a poster featuring Mr Duncan, under the slogan "Yes, we have no bananas".