The Sketch: A silent but deadly conference killer

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The Independent Online

They're jamming the seats ever closer together in the PM's press conference. Yesterday it was like a budget airline for Muppets, we were all at risk of deep vein thrombosis.

And then the PM's answers went on and on and on like an hour-long safety announcement. When he stopped, Alistair Darling said the same thing all over again. When they are together, the PM and Chancellor produce the silent killer. Yes, silent but deadly.

It worked very well. The media were gassed into submission. Our performance really was extremely poor. Several people asked him something along the lines of, "Why are you so stupid?" which allowed Brown to reply at length, "Why I am so great". One asked him in what way he thought he was so stupid and what the date of the next election was. That's the sort of thing schoolboy newshounds ask.

An American asked him if his feelings had been hurt because his poll ratings had gone down. That's not a question, that's just jeering and Americans don't have jeering rights at our press conferences. They daren't jeer at their president. Why should they jeer at ours?

What else? The question, "Should banks pass on interest rate cuts?" is nothing to do with the Prime Minister or the Chancellor. But it does allow them to sermonise, so it's a rotten question to put to them. Nonetheless, it did produce a moment of babbling Brown: "Where interest rates happen, banks have a duty to take that into account." You should re-read that a few times to extract the full flavour.

Is he in favour of more powers for Scotland? What is the case for setting a minimum price for carbon? To these questions he said there was a debate to be had. On Scotland: "I am not going to conclude the debate." What?

He attacked Tories, and that didn't seem quite right in Downing Street. Tony Blair didn't do it. He reacted to a question on "Muslim no-go areas" by talking about his anti-terror strategy; Blair would never have done that either. And he bored the entire room into sullen submission. I bet he's thinking: "It worked with the media, it'll work with the country." For the first time I'm betting on an outright Conservative victory.

Brown did say one interesting thing: "The duty to acquire skills will be put into legislation." There'll be penalties, then, presumably? Is he saying it will be an offence in law to be illiterate? He is, you know. It will be a crime to be stupid. We were too stupefied by the occasion to react. That was criminal.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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