The Sketch: No letters left to describe Brown's U-turns

Click to follow
The Independent Online

All Gordon's recent problems are self-inflicted. Even the premiership is self-inflicted. It's marvellous to have such a coherent storyline. Every month we enter a new phase of self-infliction. As we've been pointing out for a year now, these tax changes and much else originated in Gordon's desire to wrong-foot the Tories. The "long-term decisions" have been quickly replaced by long-term decisions going the other way. After so many U-turns our alphabet is unable to describe what is happening. We wentbeyond U in December, beyond double-U in January, beyond treble-U in April, and there are no letters left for the summer.

The latest manoeuvre is curlier than any previous U-turn. It's a W-turn in fact, with an internal S-bend and a Möbius twist to bring us back to the original direction of travel but in a different dimension. Confused? You must have been paying attention.

Yvette Cooper's appearance on Newsnight revealed they weren't going to backdate all compensation and that no totals were available and no one knew how to make the tax rebate. The Government can only be clear about one thing. Alistair Darling spelt it out in Treasury questions with pedantic clarity. The Tories are to blame. They're not "interested in poverty". They regard it as "a political game". The Government is doing "the right thing, morally".

But what is the right thing, exactly? That gets murky. The Treasury was frequently asked what was going to happen from here but the answers came from an uncertain trumpet. Its "intention", Alistair said, is to "offset the average losses".

What does that sound like? Is that what Frank Field walked out of the PM's office with? No losers and everything backdated? Did he get it in writing? Or will he be saying, as Gordon himself so famously said, "There is nothing now you can say that I will believe"?

The amendment has been withdrawn, the rebellion is said to be off, but there are matters not yet settled. "Offsetting average losses" may yet fester in the self-inflicted wound. Why else were there 10 whips in the chamber? Where was Frank Field? And where was the Treasury Select Committee? I hope they weren't going for a self-inflicted swing underneath Blackfriar's Bridge.

One promise Gordon has delivered on. He has promised to restore Parliament as a check on the Executive. And as Frank Field has said, this change can't be reversed because it now "belongs to Parliament". It may have been an accident and an unwelcome one, but Brown did what he promised to do. Or as the Tories might phrase it, what Brown promised to do was done to him.