The Sketch: Osborne winning the argument? Maybe it's his new Chinese wisdom

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The Independent Online

Treasury questions. George Osborne answering a range of parochial questions. He's just back from seeing the East. A China observer reports an elegant Chinese welcome from the Premier to the Cameron team: "Wonderful to see you looking so young – you seem so full of energy and I'm sure you will learn very fast!"

Hu Jintao may be two or three thousand years old, you see. He believes that age and experience will defeat youth and enthusiasm – especially when allied to two billion citizens and the Great Wall of Cash.

Back to the Commons. Alan Johnson was lamenting our VAT going up to 20 per cent. "A tax on the poor to absolve the sins of the rich," he called it.

That would be a price worth paying, but absolution's going to cost a lot more than a rise in VAT. The whole financial system is – for those of us who take a recreational interest in the apocalypse – on the brink of cataclysm. Ireland is being auditioned for the role of the Austrian Grand Duke to precipitate World War III.

On the eve of this historic event, the Commons concerned itself with child benefit, the rate of corporation tax, and trying to establish a credible argument against the Coalition's "hasty and reckless cuts". Do we know what Hu Jintao's advice is? It's unlikely to be "spend your way out of recession – it's what debt is for".

Peter Bone hit a popular target with his statistic that UK contributions to the EU have risen from £19.8bn to £41bn. Was not this a "bizarre, bewildering betrayal", as half the cash raised by cuts will now be going to subsidise "European countries". It's one of those opinion-moving factoids. You can see an in-or-out referendum producing a big fat "Out" win – especially if the Lib-Dems were canvassing to stay in.

One remarkable reversal in the House is how Tories seem to win arguments now where they invariably used to lose them. The VAT rise for instance – it had been planned by Alistair Darling before the election. Child benefit? Kate Middleton would be eligible for it, as Richard Graham pointed out and it would be paid for by people on housing benefit.

And everything else? "The worst budget deficit in the developed world" (Tory cheers, Labour groans). But as for growth? It's hard to see where that fits in to the apocalypse.

I do remember the Chinese Finance Minister apologising for an 11 per cent growth rate, the last time I was over there: "Our strategy to keep growth under 10 per cent has only made preliminary progress," he said. We'd all have to learn Hu Jintao's hardest lesson very fast indeed to have that problem here.

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