Don't even think about picking a fight with him. The man's a monster

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The Independent Online

Gordon Brown is the parliamentarian of the year, and you can't argue with that. You can't argue with him either. His pistol misfires so he knocks you down with the butt, then he empties his cartridges down your throat and sets fire to the powder trail. Then he gets pistols that work. He's a monster, the Chancellor, and that's why the government benches are packed by 2.40pm. Labour members are like "sweets compacted lie", because the Chancellor is delivering his budget. The Tory benches are half empty, and for the same reason.

Gordon Brown is the parliamentarian of the year, and you can't argue with that. You can't argue with him either. His pistol misfires so he knocks you down with the butt, then he empties his cartridges down your throat and sets fire to the powder trail. Then he gets pistols that work. He's a monster, the Chancellor, and that's why the government benches are packed by 2.40pm. Labour members are like "sweets compacted lie", because the Chancellor is delivering his budget. The Tory benches are half empty, and for the same reason.

The sort of things Mr Brown had to say sounded absolutely stunning, for those who are stunned by these sort of things.

The lowest inflation since 1963. The lowest unemployment since 1975. A growth rate a third higher than our 20-year average. Exports up by over 7 per cent, despite the strength of sterling. A surplus at £23bn - over half as high again as he had predicted, and continuing surpluses for the next five years. More national debt to be repaid in one year than all governments since the war had repaid in total. (Delighted, astonished gasps from his supporters.) Even Ken Clarke, the former-Tory chancellor, laughed good-humouredly, realising, perhaps, that Mr Brown hadn't adjusted his astonishing claim for inflation.

No, by the Chancellor's own account it was an amazing history of achievement. But then, it was the Chancellor's own account.

William Hague was less enthusiastic. This was Mr Brown's fifth budget, he said, and I believed him. It was the only figure I understood at a visceral level, but on we went regardless.

The previous four budgets, Mr Hague told the House, had grossly misinformed observers. Where the Chancellor had claimed to do better with national insurance, families, pension contributions he had actually done, ah, the opposite. The forecast for the savings ratio was down. There was a £25bn increase in taxation - a strangely similar figure to this year's surplus. And household spending wasn't as lively as under Mrs Thatcher (cheers from both sides). There were new taxes he hadn't mentioned at all.

VAT on spectacles. Council tax. And look: productivity growth, in Mr Brown's own Red Book, had been "subdued since 1997". There had been 45 new taxes. And £5bn raided from pension funds. It was the double-take economy: you take responsibility and the government takes your money.

I'm an old hand in these matters. Public Choice theory. Structural incentives. Deadweight costs. I agreed with everything that was said. But as it's a grand occasion the Sketch may be forgiven for some large thoughts.

The first is that Charles Kennedy isn't up to it, really, is he, do we think? No, that's right.

Second. The Chancellor's best figures are projections. Bear in mind that economists' projections are only really useful when the Treasury runs out of lavatory paper. Naive predictions about the economy (that next year will be the same as this year) are invariably more accurate than expert predictions.

Third: New Zealand had a terrific economic run at the beginning of the last decade, and not entirely because I was writing speeches for the prime minister over there.

They had an independent central bank, strong growth, massive surpluses. They increased public spending by 6.8 per cent of GDP (as, spookily, Mr Brown is proposing). Interest rates rose, confidence collapsed, the economy collapsed like a slow-motion car crash. The kiwi dollar is worth half what it was.

Let's look on the bright side. Perhaps Mr Hague is right - perhaps Mr Brown won't do what he says he's going to.

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