The Sketch: Plenty of questions left to humiliate the PM

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The Independent Online

It's a matter of clinical interest how well Labour's doing in Parliament. The PM walks in much as he did in his honeymoon days.

Everything's collapsed around him – money, reputation, public regard – and yet he's still big. Nobody likes him, yet he still commands. He looks out over the wreckage of the economy and says, "Birth pangs. Labour always hurts."

His troops are a little stupefied, but they can still raise a stupid cheer when they hear the right words. It helps their mental survival that they've generated a micro-environment in which to live. Sometimes it's psychotic ("We are best placed to take on the recession"), sometimes it's silly ("And the Tories would do absolutely nothing!") but at lower levels the argument is robust.

Brown answered Andrew Selous on the sterling slump by saying, "We're not targeting the pound." Yes, he went on, the last time we did that was during the ERM debacle. That took people by surprise. And Peter Tapsell's perennial question about the gold sell-off – the funds were used to buy euros. That was a good investment as it turned out.

Cameron keeps at him to admit he didn't abolish boom and bust. Brown would rather eat his tongue than use those words but he admits freely that we are in recession but that the EU went that way six months ago, and the US went a year before we did. That does mean something, if true. Debt is vast, but he says, America, Japan, France and Germany are worse. There must be some sort of figures to support that.

Remember, too, that all the world's leaders will convene in London in April to applaud his salvation plan. Several trillion dollars worth of international leadership will unite in saying the PM is correct. Or that's what he'll say they've said.

I do urge the Tory leader to ask Brown more unanswerable questions: How many CDOs are there in the financial system? What is the level of toxic debt in Government-owned banks? How much of it is wrongly rated? How large is the risk the taxpayer faces? It's ignorance that humiliates the Prime Minister.

Another surprise. His government doesn't look as clapped out and pointless as we would have hoped at this stage in the political cycle.

In the Heathrow debate, it was actually the opposite. Geoff Hoon wasn't boring. On the contrary, he kept intervening from the front bench on an increasingly unhappy Teresa Villiers. He asked her three times for her underlying argument on pollution, congestion and noise and revealed a mortifying absence.

No, the poor thing rattled through her text like a child, mishandled interventions, lost the House, lost her support, her friends and gently foundered. It's not what the opposition looked like in early 1998, is it?

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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