The Sketch: MPs shoot the messenger and miss the point

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The Independent Online

Time to boycott PMQs. This one says this, that one says that, sometimes it's the other way round. It is not merely sterile in itself but the cause of sterility in others.

In order to show he was not a "do-nothing" Premier, Gordon told us what he – unlike some others – wasn't not doing.

There were people he was giving £250 to and other people he was giving £60 to, and another half a million "vulnerable families" who were getting £25. Then the shutters came down on the manic minutiae of Gordon's Government.

Cameron accused him of "opportunism". Next week he'll denounce him for being an Etonian Euro-sceptic who should be ashamed of talking down the pound.

To the Treasury Select Committee for a packed-out meeting. Had they Paris Hilton in to talk about credit derivatives?

No, dammit, it was journalists. Yes, Britain's most fearless warrior journalists, armed only with a single sword of truth, faced a rabble of hooting, spear-shaking, face-making, woad-covered savages. By which I mean Colin Breed (Liberal Democrat, South-East Cornwall).

Breed and the Labour members on his left and right wanted to blame the credit crunch on shortsellers and the media. "Are you or are you not responsible for the run on Northern Rock?" he asked Robert Peston.

Peston's critics will be sorry to hear he acquitted himself with very much shorter diphthongs than he does on air. He told us that it wasn't the small depositors that caused the run (1.3 million depositors couldn't get their money from the Rock's 50 branches fast enough to cause a run). No, it was the big, wholesale investors who were taking their money out because they knew how bad the book was.

Cue the second-stupidest question of the day: "Didn't the filming of the queues add to the sense of panic?" But as a) you can't film institutions downloading their billions, and b) that panic was rational for small investors, you have to conclude the filming was entirely in the public interest.

John Mann asked another finger-pointing question (the finger pointed at himself) and then Nick Ainger stepped into the spotlight. The economy had been rushing towards the cliff and had any journalists warned the country? Had they tried, their editors wouldn't have published it!

Out of the hubbub, Lionel Barber of the Financial Times called, "Who's going to say 'rubbish' first?" They had all, it seems, been saying nothing else for three years.

I'm afraid the MPs still haven't got it. They think "short-sellers" are the enemy. They think someone knows what's going on. And when Simon Jenkins told them to let the useless, bankrupt banks go bust instead of bunging billions at them, you can see the woad cracking on their furrowing foreheads.

All the same, it was a fertile conversation – and it happened in Parliament.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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