Simon Carr's Sketch: Darling takes a dip in the Brown stuff

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The Independent Online

I've heard of Freedom of Information but that was ridiculous. Maybe my own FoI request will be sent to me on two discs in the unregistered post containing every darkest secret in the Treasury. Then you would see some genuinely apologetic faces in the Commons.

Let me stay with this a moment. These are febrile times; who knows how the fever will work through.

You remember earlier this month that Alistair Darling's veracity was questioned. He resolutely denied that his decision to raise the inheritance tax threshold had anything to do with Osbo's conference promise. There was a spat about it. Under pressure, the Prime Minister suggested in the House that the documents released under the Freedom of Information Act would vindicate the Chancellor. So, they released some documents which failed to do that, quite. True, Mr Darling had called for an analysis of inheritance tax earlier in the year, but quite possibly in reaction to Tory suggestions on the subject.

Nowhere did the information released demonstrate that Mr Darling decided to raise the threshold before the Tory conference.

My own FoI request is still pending. It asks for the minute of the meeting in which Mr Darling decided to make the change. If it's prior to the conference he's in the clear. But if it exists, why hasn't he released it already?

If the minute is dated after Osbo's speech, he's deep in the brown stuff. Along with someone who we could describe as his partner in grime, the Prime Minister himself. Both of them deep in the Brown stuff.

Events this week haven't made things any easier for Mr Darling. There are questions of the competence over Northern Rock; but there are more damaging questions of veracity over the data discs. First: Was it all the responsibility of one hapless junior as he said? Or did senior officials know about the dispatch, as the Tories now charge?

Second: Did Darling delay the announcement for some days in order to please the banks? Or are the banks correct when they say they made no such request?

With so much going so wrong, these – what shall we call them? – mishaps in veracity gain weight.

At another level, Gordon was badly damaged in the home affairs committee. Lord Goldsmith's evidence along with the Director of Public Prosecutions has surely wrecked the case for extending 28 days. Gordon must have done the numbers on the committee; if he can swing enough lead to get a majority out of that lot I'll take my hat off to him. I think the committee will go against him and therefore he'd risk great humiliation in the House.

But if he pulls back it'll be seen as another failure of drive and direction. All this "power to Parliament" must be looking like a bloody silly idea suddenly.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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