The Sketch: Gordon laughed. He obviously wasn’t listening

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The Independent Online

There is the thought that Gordon has found his sense of humour but I'm not so sure. He was chuckling all the way through George Osborne's reply to the pre-Budget report. But it wasn't funny. Oh, believe me when I say that.

There had been "a sneaky fiddling of net debt", Osborne claimed. That made Gordon throw back his head. They had done some trick with the contraction to make the recession seem less severe than it was. "Pray stop". And there was now £1.3 trillion of this and 5.9 per cent of that, and every point was a punchline making Gordon chuckle, laugh, smirk, grin, you needed a thesaurus of mirth to describe the PM on the front bench.

I have to say, it was almost as though he wasn't paying attention to what the shadow Chancellor was saying. There, that's one of those insider observations you get from years of watching these things.

Alistair Darling excelled himself. Halfway through his speech grown men were weeping, "We surrender".

Here's a moment of Darling-style interest. He had said there was going to be a half per cent rise in National Insurance. Someone noticed that he'd said "a further half per cent" meaning an extra half per cent from the half that had been announced last year to come into force the year after next. So it was an extra 1 per cent two years out, not an extra half a per cent.

But I've just heard that everyone earning more than £20,000 is going to be worse off. I hadn't noticed that at the time. A mark of the man's talent.

It was supposed to be a big moment for young George, to establish himself finally as the big voice behind the Opposition's approach to a half a trillion quids worth of spending. What can we say? He looked like he does his hair with two hairbrushes.

He said there was no credible plan for debt reduction – and that was probably right. But he didn't have any reason not to "grow the economy out of the recession" as the cant has it.

Edward Leigh of the Public Accounts Committee stated as a National Audit Office fact that the Gershon savings (remember a large part of Darling's positive cash flow come from "efficiency savings") were "unproven". Would Darling provide his assumptions for the NAO to look at? No he wouldn't.

As the Labour Savonarola John Mann has earlier criticised his Notts county police for having just 14 officers on duty out of 2,000, it is possible to believe you could fire tens of thousands of public servants without reducing "front line services". But we all know it isn't going to happen.

So we know what isn't going to happen but none of us know what will. We are led into the dark by the Prime Minister's ghostly laughter.

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