The Sketch: Let's hold hands and dance around Gordon's toadstool

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The Independent Online

Nice Alan Johnson. You can't dislike him. Yes, he allowed public sector workers to retire five years earlier on gold-plated, inflation-linked, two-Bentley pensions. But he said he wouldn't run for Labour leader because he wasn't good enough.

That gives him a niche in our hearts. He made a joke; the opposition had put out a press release about poly-clinics spelling them "polly clinics".

"Shouldn't criticise a policy you can't spell," he said. But then, in the following debate, John Hutton kept calling them "entreprenewers". He's the minister of something he can't pronounce. Mr Hutton's going to make Britain the most enterprising country in the world. To this end he has an Administrative Burdens Reduction programme and... but I've lost you.

The Budget debate was on business, enterprise and regulatory reform. And it was interesting to the extent that neither Labour nor Tory front bench paid any attention to the fact that the house is on fire. Alan Duncan responded for the Tories, reading out his speech like an essay in front of his tutor.

Why are they so calm? The ground underneath their feet is heaving, blow-holes are opening up and the smell of sulphur is getting stronger hour by hour. Am I exaggerating? We can only hope so.

From the department official wonking away in front of the Treasury Select Committee, it seems the Government are basing their expectations of economic resilience on the way we've come through dips and blips in the past decade. But the past is a guide to the future only in stable times. This is different. Anything can happen now.

A dollar slump would put oil at $150 a barrel. The US is pledged to "err on the side of inflation" and in Monday's lobby briefing the spokesman suggested Britain would follow suit.

And what is Gordon's "strategy for stability"? Nationalising more banks? How likely is that? How bad is it out there? Does the Government know? These debt packages – why haven't the banks found out how much crap is hidden in them? The Government doesn't even know how bad the Northern Rock mortgages are.

What about the biggest regulatory failure of modern times? The credit ratings agencies – riddled with conflicting interests, as corrupt as ancien régime tax farmers – have perpetrated a fraud on the public that makes Robert Maxwell look like he was scrumping apples.

Has the left been so gutted they daren't make a noise? What's wrong with the Tories? They will say they mustn't overreact. That the only thing we have to fear is fear. That we mustn't talk the economy down. That we must collaborate in a collective delusion that everything's going to be all right.

Yes, let's hold hands and dance round Goron's toadstool.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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