The Sketch: More a living will than a Queen's Speech

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The Independent Online

"Check against delivery". That was the instruction on the front of the Queen's Speech. It's the one thing we don't have to worry about with our head of state. She won't get seized with inspiration and announce a "November Guarantee to create 30,000 jobs".

That was the highlight of the PM's speech in the Commons, incidentally. "Four new guarantees". We've already got the September Guarantee and now we are promised the January Guarantee. November and December? We'll just have to keep our nerve. It's a high-wire act without a net. How will we know that the guarantees worked? It depends whether anyone can remember what they are.

It all happened so fast. We glimpsed the PM's Day One Guarantee. No one was able to concentrate enough to find out what it was or what was guaranteed for Day Two or if it related to September or January. Informed opinion felt it might have something to do with ensuring that January starts on the 1st. We'll hold them to that.

It's probably been said before but it wasn't a Queen's Speech as much as a living will. They are to put into law things that they wanted to do themselves but couldn't. Thus, it will be illegal for future governments not to abolish child poverty. It'll be an offence not to give 0.7 per cent of GDP in foreign aid. It'll be breaking the law not to halve the deficit.

But as Cameron pointed out halving the deficit next year would take it back to 7 per cent of GDP, "the level that Denis Healey faced the last time Labour nearly bankrupted the country".

He said the PM's main interest wasn't in doing the right thing for the country but in trying to embarrass the Conservatives. It was "pathetic", he said, in that pleasantly demotic way.

The charges he made were more serious than he made them sound (he does scamper on, a bit). His every promise had turned to dust. There'd been a moral failure with the McBride smears and a monumental failure with the public finances.

There's no lack of material to accuse and satirise and vilify and torment Brown with. But he doesn't fall to pieces under Cameron's attack. Blair would have invented a new persona to really hurt his opponent. Something grave and saddened, perhaps.

But it was Frank Dobson's anecdote that lingered longest. In the 1930s a leftie campaigner was canvassing in a block of flats inveighing against German rearmament, the great cause of the day. The flat owner said: "Did you come up in the lift? It smells of pee, doesn't it? Can you stop people peeing in the lift?" No, the canvasser admitted. The reply: "If you can't stop people peeing in the lift how are you going to stop the re-armament of Germany?"