The Sketch: All the verbiage boiled down to four words: 'It wasn't my fault'

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The Independent Online

Never mind the roaring, the bellowing, the King, the Kong... our PM's great fault or flaw is timidity. That's the reason we so often can't understand what the hell he's talking about.

The Tory Michael Jack was asking how the "tripartite regulatory authority" worked. What a mouthful it is, of course it couldn't act decisively. By the time they'd got to the end of the multisyllables the crisis had engulfed us.

Jack noted there had been 20 or 30 investigations going on between the Treasury, the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority. Amongst all that, did the PM ever talk to any of these regulators about the troubled (and investigated) HBOS? "Let me tell you first about the purpose of the tripartite committee," Brown began.

Please, no! But away he went on the simulation exercise he'd hosted with guests from America, and officials from everywhere, and the massed processing power of the Skilled Person's Report and the Arrow Assessment and..."

Why in the name of pity was he telling us this? Alan Beith finally managed to get his question in, "So you did discuss HBOS?" The PM didn't pause but changed direction in mid-stride. "Of course the tripartite committee will discuss... the major areas of risk," (where had that "will" come from suddenly?) And off he went again ending up saying that the whistleblower Moore was wrong, that it wasn't risk that brought HBOS down it was the bank's "flawed business model" (nothing to do with risk).

It was all about something else. I only saw it later. A four-word resume: "It wasn't my fault." He wouldn't admit to having ever heard about HBOS in case he attracted some of the blame.

Another one. A minister has prohibited English regions from bidding for EU funds. Why? "When you get money you've got to balance it against money you've got yourselves. And that is the point at issue." Straight question, corkscrew answer.

And finally, the £57bn being shovelled into banks is more than the defence budget for the year. John McFall asked how he was going to "take the public" with him when bankers were so hated and politicians were getting contaminated by association.

Ah, well the money in these two cases was different. With the banks, "It is putting something in, different from a normal public facility grant, the purchase of shares in the bank is us taking something in return, for the finance we're willing to give the bank so the shares that have gone down in value..."

What he couldn't say was the shares were "an investment". Because money in the MoD and the NHS – money that you never get back – that's what investment is according to a decade of Brown's rhetoric.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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