The Sketch: Sanity seems to have hit Gordon. The end is nigh

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The Independent Online

Have Brown shares been oversold? Have we gone beyond the bottom? The pictures in the paper show a man scarred with weals, welts and facial erosion. But, in person, he looks perfectly all right.

For all his faults, he sounded almost tolerable on the radio yesterday, and also in his press conference. He produced his key messages with the ease of a practised bulimic. Will the public respond to this demeanour saying: "He's dull. We like that." It's not impossible. Downing Street is counting on it.

The voters of Crewe may yet go into the privacy of the polling booth murmuring the slogans to themselves: "Difficult economic times need long-term decisions on our side to steer us through the course of stability without being distracted by gossip into getting on with the job of guiding the United Kingdom along the path of prosperity into the coming upswing. Oh, and the £200m in shared equity schemes is at last a reality."

Or then again, will Crewe say: "My motorbike has broken down and the Government's doing nothing and I'm going to vote for the stinking Tories to get rid of you!"

Still, one thing was cleared up, just in time. A private interest of mine for some years now. There had been questions on Brown's "Golden Rule" by which his books have to balance over the economic cycle. The question, unanswered until yesterday, goes: "Where are we in the economic cycle and when's it going to end?" Bear in mind that both practically and philosophically this information is unknowable in advance.

The PM gave us a long, evasive tutorial on the past decade and was starting on the coming decade when interrupted with "So that's a 'don't know' is it?" Then he said, to his credit: "I'm not going to predict when the economic cycle is going to end."

The point is it's impossible to gauge whether your revenues and outgoings are going to balance if you don't know when they have to balance by. But it's the first time I've heard Gordon anything less than omniscient. He also said, "Economic cycles are lasting a lot longer than they used to." And "most economic commentators agree the last cycle is over." It may be a sign that sanity is intruding on the PM. In that case, the end can't be far away.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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