Sean O'Grady: Darling's credibility has been devalued as much as sterling

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Rules, they say, are there to be broken but this is getting silly. Now that the two fiscal rules have been junked, ministers have little left in the way of an economic compass. The inflation target of 2 per cent has been missed more often than not recently; it hit 5.2 per cent in September, hopefully its peak.

We've been ticked off by the EU for breaking the Maastricht guidelines on borrowing, as we no doubt will be again. Government spending is running way ahead of the targets set in the March Budget, as is borrowing. The split of regulatory functions between the Financial Services Authority and the Bank of England has not been a conspicuous success. And the Government's targets for everything from halving child poverty to building millions of affordable new homes look forlorn. Nor have we had "an end to boom and bust".

So the credibility that Mr Darling carries when he solemnly promises a sturdy, if flexible, fiscal framework for the future is as devalued as sterling. It need not have been so.

It's too late now but Mr Brown could have stuck to his rules, spent more prudently after 2002, stifled the incipient boom, and had room to spend his way out of trouble today. That is how he prevented recession after the dot com crash of 2000; the money saved in Labour's first term was put to good use then and in 2001.

However, like an absent-minded housekeeper, Mr Brown then forgot to turn the taps off, and flooded the economy with borrowing. How will we mop up the mess?

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