The Sketch: He demonstrated the strength of ten lunatics

Click to follow
The Independent Online

They are amazing, in their way. Admirable, even. The sheer intestinal fortitude it must take to appear in public after all that international humiliation. And then to come back and be humiliated at home. How to go through all that humiliation without being humbled! What a package of qualities you need for public life at this highest level. Of course, lunacy helps and, yesterday, Gordon Brown displayed the strength of 10 lunatics. It is his greatest asset.

He threw at us folders full of statistics and demographics and wages cross referenced with allowance levels and the thermostat settings in pensioners' households. Was it true? Who knows. Was it useful? It gave him something to say, and the backbenchers had something to cheer. That was important at the time

In cold print, his defence of the "tense pence" (sic) looks very odd. "Everybody now agrees the 10p rate is not the best way of tackling poverty," he said as though correcting yet another Tory blunder. Later, he denounced the Tories for having opposed the introduction of the 10p band. But as he'd opposed it himself last year (to the point of abolishing it) his backbenchers became confused. Were the Tories right? Was their leader a Tory himself?

Hadn't they got rid of a crypto-Conservative in favour of Real Labour? Whatever they thought, they issued a tribal noise of all-purpose support.

The noise in the chamber was set at a constant level of interference. When Cameron raises his voice, the rabble rouses in front of him. But if you could concentrate on the words you heard some very hurtful things: "Does the Prime Minister realise what a pathetic figure he cuts today?"

That was a new way of putting it. It was true enough to make the weak among us wince.

Then there was "dithering, indecision... always about politics, not policy... calculation, not conviction... self interest, not national interest". And after that, a summary of Labour interventions in the debate: "losing touch... doesn't know what fairness is, scared rabbit, porridge... " and then a line that will resonate with both parties. "Is it not the case that the Labour Party has finally worked out that it has a loser not a leader?"

Gordon's rally began by detailing the increase in child benefit from £11 to £20 and finished with "I know which side the country is on" (don't bring the country into it, man!).

This is the beginning of the year's most dangerous trimester. Even Tony Blair in his boom time used to falter in the month before the big holiday. How will it be for Gordon when he's bust?