Simon Carr: No hidden agenda? This is a big change

The Sketch: Darling demanded an apology. And they demanded more apologies, and no one apologised but everyone seemed to have enjoyed themselves.
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The Independent Online

It's a long, hard fight, the war against terror, but we like a laugh on the way. Denis MacShane had given his approval to Cameron's Afghanistan strategy and had read from his own speech to prove it. He gravely lent the coalition his support. Cameron laughed: "I've always thought that reading one's own speeches in the House of Commons is the first sign of madness." That made me bark. Downstairs, Bob Ainsworth smiled. Denis didn't.

The Prime Minister told us about Afghanistan and Pakistan. There had been a "huge boost" here and "real progress" there. Our development strategy is being realigned and it seems still to be the case that we are working towards a national reconciliation process.

Cameron was going to work hard to understand tribal structures. That's a start, I suppose. Once you've understood their tribal structures, you realise you can't win and come home, is that how it works? Right or wrong, though, Cameron doesn't seem to be operating on a hidden agenda, with an ulterior purpose. To get the other party "on the wrong side of the argument". It's the big change from the last 13 years.

He came up with an imperial understatement: "Progress is not yet irreversible." It had an almost oriental tint to it: "The war has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage," Hirohito said, after Nagasaki.

A young man with outsized features sat behind David Cameron. It was Rory Stewart who used to be a governor out there and probably knows more than anyone about it. Feeling himself too new, he declined to ask a question; that's an old English virtue, that sort of restraint.

Then it was George Osborne unveiling the Office of Budget Responsibility. This will provide unspun statistics to nourish the national debate. "Now all MPs will have access to independent figures," he said, and I got quite sentimental. All the assumptions are going to be published. It's a new world suddenly.

So now we can see clearly that the cyclically adjusted aggregates of something or other are higher – or possibly lower – than the outgoing government said they were. "Shame! Apologise!" the stupider Tories cried.

But then Alistair Darling used the same statistics to show how he'd been traduced and misrepresented. Shame! He demanded an apology. And they demanded more apologies, and no one apologised but everyone seemed to have enjoyed themselves.

The Tories want to cut the deficit and balance the books to keep interest rates down. Alistair wants to increase borrowing to create the growth which is essential to cut borrowing.

Either side might be right. Events will surprise us all.