Simon Carr: £100bn – the price of a pig in a poke

Sketch: What's in those boxed-up securities, do you think? Darling doesn't know, Brown doesn't know
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The Independent Online

In these uncertain times we all want to hang on to the facts. But the trouble is, there aren't any facts. Nobody knows what, why, when or how – and certainly not how much. There is one – who. Ken Clarke's back on the front bench. That much we know. Let's hang on to the fact of Ken, as he sits there with his elephant eyes crinkling. At least he can say what he did in the last three recessions. George Osborne can only say he watched the last three recessions on the Discovery Channel.

Alistair Darling gave his introduction to the end of the world. He said he was going to "eliminate uncertainty", "remove barriers to prudent lending", "safeguard millions of jobs" and "steer the country through the worst recession of living memory". I would have believed him more had he said: "I am going to turn myself inside out and give myself to the Queen as a vase for Valentine's Day."

When they did Northern Rock over a year ago, I asked one of his press people what level of toxic assets the company had. The question was waved away. They didn't know. Maybe they didn't know they didn't know. But I knew and I don't know anything.

So it was nice to hear Iain Duncan Smith ask the same question. He does not know anything either. It's an advantage. Because the more you know about high finance the more you think you know. But here's the opposition proposition that embraces ignorance as the central fact of the crunch.

They've thrown £37bn at the problem without effect, lost £17bn in RBS shares, have less knowledge than before about the scale of toxic assets – so how can they reassure us this £100bn isn't good money after bad?

Darling said they hadn't been able to do due diligence because they'd had to act quickly. In other words, they were hustled. Black Wednesday was a quid until Thursday. This isn't even Black January or a Black Annus. This is the start of a Dark Decade.

"The costs of doing nothing are greater by far than the costs of doing nothing," the Chancellor says. But he has no idea of the cost of either. The Government is going to insure bank risk. How? They don't know. They can't price the risk because they don't know what the risk is. All they know is "doing nothing is more expensive".

The market doesn't know. We'll none of us know till the recession has taken its course.