Simon Carr: The Sketch

Mr Brown was just a sideshow for the real architects of our economy
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The Independent Online

What a day. The Sketch arrived in the Palace of Westminster to see and hear the two men responsible for our great economic success, for our stability, our national wealth, for the conditions of muted prosperity that we enjoy above all other developed countries. Gordon Brown also spoke.

In the morning Sir Eddie George, Governor of the Bank of England presented himself to the Treasury committee. Solid as a rock. Solid as the Bank of England. Big bass roll in his voice. Jowls.

As the independent regulator of Britain's interest rates, he has been responsible for the stability of the economy. He's got a symmetrical inflation target, you know, and he keeps hitting it. If you don't know what that means you shouldn't be reading this column.

Broadly speaking or narrowly speaking, as economists say, there's a downside inflation risk. There's also an upside risk but that only makes sense in terms of the central projection on the downside. The central projection is so near the fulcrum of the balance of probablities. But you know that already.

"I honestly wouldn't put any weight at all on the numbers," Sir Eddie said, surprising the committee a little (although they were too sophisticated to show it). Bearing in mind that economic predictions are worthless, he made it clear that the investment adjustment and inventory overhang would be settled in the middle of next year (unless it was the other way round), and that there was just a 1 per cent chance of recession.

On the other hand, another member of the Governor's committee, Sushil Wadhwani ("I must make it clear how much I respect my colleagues on the committee," he kept repeating, rather suspiciously, in the Sketch's view), said there was a vast testicular presence concealed in the Governor's remarks. In Mr Wadhwani's view, there was a 25 per cent chance of recession.

A one in four chance of recession. That's high. Mr Wadhwani has been more pessimistic about the global economy – and more correct in his pessimism – than his colleagues for the past year. He has been in the vanguard of the faction arguing for interest rate cuts. His track record is ominously good.

Later in the House, the second architect of our national economic renewal stood up. Ken Clarke questioned the Chancellor in his pre-Budget statement.

This is the man who presided over faster growth than Labour; whose spending limits the incoming chancellor stuck to so piously; who founded the surpluses which have paid off so much debt and allowed funds to be filtered into the public services (if at a slower rate than those profligate spend-crazy Tories managed).

Mr Clarke chuckled at the Chancellor's economic megalomania, laughed at his delusions of managerial grandeur and warned him lightly that departmental estimates rising at 7 per cent a year were unsustainable.

The weight of Ken Clarke. The body of experience he carries. The knowledge of high office. He'd be wasted as Tory leader. That's what the Tories think, at any rate.

Gordon Brown's pre-Budget report is analysed elsewhere. Suffice it to say you can't believe a word he says about money – from "the tax burden is falling" (it's up £25bn a year) to "It's wrong for pensioners to be penalised for their savings" (Ha! Ha! Ha!).

Michael Howard, the new shadow Chancellor gave it some wallop. Mr Howard isn't the next most likely chancellor, though. No, Mr Brown's successor may well be Labour's chairman, Charles Clarke, whose blistering attack on the NHS reported yesterday morning made him Downing Street's favoured son.

Simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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