The Sketch: Beware the proverb: Divided we stand, but together we fall

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The Independent Online

The PM was doing so well it was hard not to look for an explanation. No, not Prozac. I think, in retrospect, he was displaying the impregnable calm of a man who knew at a very profound level that he hadn't done anything wrong.

It was almost the first thing he said. Not only am I entirely in the clear, I live by a code very far above my colleagues. Yes, campaign finance. He told us how he had instructed the team running his own election not to accept donations from anyone they didn't know personally. An example of paranoia? On balance I think we can allow him prudence. When The Independent was raising its initial capital, the Quarterdeck was very careful not to allow Robert Maxwell to buy any shares; indeed, the rascal ended up with a small parcel precisely by using a nominee. You wouldn't want a northern property tycoon to be a minority shareholder in Prime Minister Brown.

"I knew nothing about it," he said whenever he could. But the play was moving on.

"Has Harriet Harman broken the electoral law?" And there, I fear, the Prime Minister failed to step up to the plate. He said, and there were sharp intakes of breath as he did so: "That's for her to answer." Subtitles might have read: "Harriet 'Hot Brick' Harman heats soup!" Tony Blair's instinctive response to questions like this was instant loyalty. Total, solid, big-fat-fullback loyalty. When pressed on whether he had confidence in his deputy, Mr Brown said he had full confidence in what she had said (a very different thing).

A study of Gordon's discourse reveals it's everyone for themselves. "You'll have to ask them," he said when asked about his colleagues. The trouble with collective responsibility is that you hang together. If a few hang singly it may yet be all right, he thinks. The proverb says otherwise. An Italian asked him about his moral compass: "What does it say?" she asked, charmingly. He began his reply as though he was already in a padded cell: "My moral compass says..." The most subversive question asked about his "vision". He had wanted time to lay it out. Had he done so yet, or was there more to come, the questioner asked mildly. I dropped off during the answer so I can't be sure, but I think it has been laid out.

PS: The Tories are in a very dangerous situation. The worse things get for Brown the greater the temptation for cockiness. And voters suddenly go: "Ahh! That's why we disliked them. I'd nearly forgotten!"