The Sketch: Rock sinks the festive cheer

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The Independent Online

The Prime Minister has a new air about him. The honeymoon is over but so is the post-honeymoon. The terrible moment when we realise that a new spouse isn't just for Christmas that may have passed. Now we realise with a dull sense of fate that we're in it for the long term (he's always talking about the long term). We're like Trollope's frisky Lady Glencora stuck in matrimony with Mr Palliser and his dreams of decimilising the currency. We have to forget sexy Burgo. We've just got to settle down in the bed we've made for ourselves.

He laughed more than once; he thinks we like it when he laughs. He joked about "the Christmas spirit" (four times). He bantered. He exercised his charm.

I wouldn't be surprised if his poll rating rises. As we noted last week he has stopped getting worse. The Tories need another tactic; jeering is no longer enough.

To the meat of the press conference. I regret to say that our various Lady Glencoras seemed to have given up. Maybe it's the time of year. Or maybe they don't understand any more about Northern Rock than I do. That's a depressing thought.

"Can you guarantee all money put into the company will be paid back with interest?" he was asked. The answer was so shifty as to speak volumes. "What I can guarantee is that the money we've put in is backed by the assets of Northern Rock."

Why didn't this release a storm of questioning? The assets are people's houses, paid off at 1,000 a month, how does that turn into the 57bn the taxpayer is up for? And how much of the assets are triple-A and how much is junk?

The PM said it's all a result of companies "underpricing risk". That's what economists call "a statement of the bleeding obvious". Jon Snow suggested something he didn't quite manage to nail: there's a case to be made for putting some of these directors in jail. They bought junk without asking how junky it was and used the junk to inflate balance sheets so they could award themselves billions in bonuses. Isn't that fraud?

Oh, and has the Government "underpriced the risk"? Do they actually know what they're underwriting? We needed Vince Cable there.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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