Simon Carr:

Simon Carr: Providing opposition, but not inspiring much in the way of confidence

Sketch: The good news is that he's better than he was. The bad news is he sucks

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The Leader of the Opposition started the parliamentary year with his first fuse-lighting, kick-starting, momentum-building press conference. The good news is that he's better than he was. The bad news is he sucks.

He had sent ahead his new press people to work the crowd and tell us what he was going to say. He had also brought Alan Johnson along to tell us the rate of national insurance. Alan had got this wrong on national television over the weekend, claiming it was 85 per cent or something. It is a low trick indeed when interviewers ask Trivial Pursuit questions, but for a shadow Chancellor not to know this tax rate – it's like a Home Secretary not knowing if Derby is north or south of Bristol.

"Alan clearly does know these things," his leader said, to laughter. Not that it sounded like laughter.

His burden was that Labour had only failed to regulate the banks properly and to build a broad enough industrial base. How much should bank bonuses be? Were interest rates too low? Was the 50p tax rate permanent? "Let me be completely clear," he didn't quite say, "I'm not going to tell you."

He's still so odd his manner overwhelms his matter. During his introduction he stared with such unblinking intensity above our heads that people kept turning to see what it was he was looking at (a man with an axe? An angel?). When listening to a question he took a drink and seemed to sneeze into the glass causing a blow-back into his face. It was an accident. It isn't an accident that happens to prime ministers.

He called the visually-impaired reporter "Gary". He was clearly the visually-impaired, because he had a seeing-eye dog. But it was Sean, the other visually-impaired reporter. He said: "I'm not going to stand here and sit in judgement." Asked about David Miliband's television career, he said: "My brother will succeed in everything he does."

He was told that the public had no idea who he was, other than the man who knifed the aforesaid brother and was invited to give us some self-definition. He said: "I'm someone who is passionate about this country," counting himself into a community in public life wide enough to include Prince Charles, Nick Griffin and Abu Hamza.

If you want people to think you are passionate you have to follow the "show don't tell" rule. Asked whether he was going to address a certain protest rally he said: "I've said the way I'll be judged is not by the number of protests I go on."

Time will tell on that one, old cock.



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