The Sketch: His finest hour? It certainly felt like his longest

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The Independent Online

How exhausting of the Chancellor, over an hour of him. How demanding it is to sit through, actually listening to that amount of his unpunctuated rhetoric. One paragraph moves into another with no indication he's changing the subject. Real estate investment trusts blend into the duty differentials for rebated oils into the cutting-edge schemes for risk-based regulation and the only counterpoint to the jabber is the statistical clatter that Budgets always produce.

I suppose you have to have someone like this, but whether that person should also be prime minister is very open to question. The top job may be too big for one person: of course you need someone who does the work but you also need someone to sell it. Making things is no use unless you can sell them. Salesmen always earn more than producers, after all.

And look: the Budget upped the tax bill by £5bn, according to young George Osborne, and therein lies Blair's brilliance. Over his premiership he's increased public spending in real terms by half and is still able to raise taxes 10 years and three elections later.

He's done it by winning the argument. Extraordinary feat, and not one that Brown could have pulled off, not with that harrowing, bellowing, pulpit-bully style.

Brown made three jokes, though, perhaps as part of his strategy to appeal to the English (we like a joke, people say). But he was very successful, everyone laughed. "Thank you, I'm Gordon Brown, I'm here all week." No, he didn't say that.

Those jokes in full: He said he wasn't putting VAT on flip flops. And he wasn't planning on abolishing income tax. And that Henry Vansittart's last job was Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the 1820s. The House roared. You had to be there. That last joke was pinched from Nick Robinson's blog site, by the way. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

One sentence woke me up. "Child benefit and the child tax credit effectively means no income tax for a two-child family with earnings up to £425 a week." That's perhaps what the Chancellor means by entrenching stability for a generation. Half Britain's families-with-children have their income tax bill paid by Gordon Brown. That's quite an inducement to vote a certain way. There was one other sentence that caused my flesh to chill. He said: "The Deputy Prime Minister is today announcing the allocation of £970m for." Whoever's supposed to be in line for that billion will be whistling for it, I fear.

David Cameron rose to the occasion, maybe even overshot it. He gave us a terrific burst of cheerful, vernacular rhetoric with some amusing barbs. "In a carbon-conscious world we've got a fossil fuel Chancellor!" was one. "Belting out figures like a super-charged bookmaker!" was another. And "He's an analogue politician in a digital world!" was the last.

Humour and abuse rarely work at the highest level of politics (it worked for William Hague, remember). But the thing about Cameron is he's fundamentally a very nice fellow, and by the alchemy that nice fellows can command (I don't understand anything about it), his cruel words don't reflect badly on him. The Tories have been waiting for months for the phoney war to be over, so they roared like the big, dumb beast they imitate so well. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves (the Prime Minister's acting abilities must have been particularly useful).

The idea of a Conservative government still requires too much imagination for me. Without the argument they haven't found a convincing or commanding voice. "Billions raised, billions spent, no idea where the money's gone! He should be applying to be treasurer of the Labour Party!"

Arf, arf. For what it was, it couldn't have been better. Not unless the Metropolitan Police had invaded the chamber, hooded and shackled the Prime Minister and dragged him away to 28 days of questioning for selling honours. It's still early days yet, course.

* Treasury Budget site

* Chancellor's Statement in full