The Sketch: Brown ready for a relaxing cycle ride to power

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The Independent Online

The other-worldly calm has passed from Tony to Gordon. The Chancellor has ascended to a strange, new Zen plane. The fidgeting has been stilled. He doesn't adjust his hair any more, his face no longer works away as he talks to his imaginary friend, nor is he scribbling thick, black symbols up the margins of his speech notes.

He doesn't clasp his hands in front of him and rock to and fro, like a mental patient in a strait- jacket trying to get at the ants. That is, he wasn't yesterday. The deal is done, he's going to be Prime Minister and doesn't even have to fight an election to do it. He can relax.

My bet is that the Treasury assertion that the economic cycle will end in 2006 is significant. As nobody can know this unknowable thing (if you did know you'd bet on it and be a billionaire), we can only assume Mr Brown has pushed it out to a time when he will no longer be Chancellor. The Treasury used to say it could predict "within two decimal places" that the cycle would finish this year; now they say, blandly, it will be two years hence.

My prediction is, then, that Mr Brown will allow Mr Blair to deliver a third thumping victory, help him win a euro referendum and take over the reins in the first quarter of 2006. You think my evidence is insubstantial? It was confirmed yesterday morning by the intestinal disposition of a slaughtered chicken (the ticket inspector was too frightened to object). If you think it's insufficient evidence, it's no less convincing than the methods used by the Treasury.

The message of the day is that the whole conduct of politics must change, that we should debate the honest clash of policy without casting doubt on the integrity of our opponents. The Sketch contends that a) the affectation of omniscience we get from the Treasury, and b) the Prime Minister's reluctance to admit any sort of error are both very serious moral flaws.

And, further, that calls for a "complete cultural change in reporting" (from Mr Hain et alia, yesterday) are so emetic that one needs a very odd temperament indeed to find any pleasure in them at all.

When Oliver Letwin tried, in question time, to debate the possibility of tax rises, he was noisily ignored. The purpose of the "honest debate" (like Mr Blair's Big Conversation) is not to debate at all, but for opponents to confess their ignorance and stupidity. Mr Letwin's serious point was dismissed by the Government with the defence that net debt was 44 per cent of GDP under the Tories. It's probably more than that now, if off-balance sheet debt is included, along with the cunningly concealed liabilities.

And anyway: 65 per cent of the credit for the current economic success goes to Ken Clarke. Oh, don't get me started.

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