The Sketch: Babyface too easily rattled on spending and child poverty

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The Independent Online

The Chancellor's answers on Today roused pity and terror. The week before he'd been "safe". Now his answers sound like a senile man masticating porridge. That is, he sounds like the porridge, not the man. Formless, pointless, virtually without content, certainly meaningless.

In the Budget Resolutions he sat next to thrusting James Babyface Purnell. It was awful. Alistair has turned into one of those creatures kept by aggressive ants to have their essence sucked out to feed the predators' young. No wonder Balls is looking so lively.

Osbo gave us his gloss of the Budget's fine print. There's £1.3bn less on health than we were told and £2.2bn less on education. The big increase in defence spending is paid for by cuts in schools 'n' hospitals. I'd like to see a Tory government get that past Harriet Harman.

Osbo has developed a very impressive talent to annoy ministers. He goaded Baby Boy to great effect. Labour was copying Tory welfare policy. But, Purnell objected, it was the Tories who were copying Labour's Freud report. Ah, but Labour had abandoned the Freud report before the Tories picked it up, and Freud was a banker and Tory adviser anyway.

It's what Gordon calls a "shared national consensus". We call it "squabbling". But would Purnell undertake there and then to implement the whole of the Freud report? After enough needling, Baby Boy said he would. Tory joy! "You should have seen the Chancellor's face when he said that!" Osbo cried. Freud's central recommendation is a resolution between two departmental accounting methods that prompt internecine warfare in the Civil Service. They have Days of Rage about it.

Purnell retaliated by flinging his rattle at the opposition. Stand up and tell us right now how you are going to fund your spending promises! This was punctured by a Scot Nat, Stewart Hosie, who pointed out the government programme was funded by £43bn of borrowing, £581bn of debt and £189bn of PFI. Damn, but he's a handy man, that Hosie. Purnell hadn't finished getting worse. Child poverty! Tories won't pledge to halving it! They just "aspire" to by 2010! We pledged to by 2010! Osbo and other Tories pointed out that Labour won't make this pious target. The department had admitted it. But Purnell furiously insisted had "pledged" to "aim to meet" the "target". Is that so superior, morally? It sounded like an aspiration to me.

BTW: the Tories' "black hole" in spending promises amounts to 0.2 per cent of public spending.