The Sketch: Simon Carr

Moment of triumph as Shadow Chancellor leaves Gordon holding the baby
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The Chancellor chose this of all news days to declare that he was expecting a baby. The announcement coincided, rather brutally you may feel, with the childless Shadow Chancellor's last appearance at the despatch box.

Michael Portillo rose to nine seconds of Tory cheers. He said in his thoughtful, rather ineffectual way: "May I offer my own congratulations to the Chancellor and his wife, Sarah. This news brought great pleasure to me. And also, I believe, to Lord Tebbit."

A hit! The laughter came in rolling waves, one on top of the other, as the implications sank in. It was Mr Portillo's great triumph. He had subverted Mr Brown's public relations coup, fingered Lord Tebbit as a twisted old fruit and for the first time in his position as Shadow Chancellor, carried all before him in Treasury questions.

The rest of his routine was something of an anti-climax, devoted to the world's poor. Perhaps he's identified a career opportunity there. Dying children and so forth. The moral high ground. Most politicians need breathing apparatus at that altitude, but Mr Portillo seemed quite comfortable, beyond the reach of mere politics.

When he pointed out how much money found its way into the hands of dictators to finance their megalomaniacal projects, he resisted any reference to Tony Blair and the Dome. When he referred to corruption in the Third World, he resisted a crack at Gordon Brown (who still allows bribes paid to Third World officials to be tax deductible). And he finished his parliamentary career by complimenting the Chancellor on his debt reduction achievements, with the words: "If we're not here to do some good, then what after all is politics about?"

That's very far from being a rhetorical question.

Politicians go into politics for all sorts of reasons other than "doing good". Attention deficit disorder, for instance (people aren't paying them enough attention). Then again, they might be power mad, bossier or nosier than their friends. Conversely, or consequently, they mightn't have any friends. Their business might have gone bankrupt and they hadn't anything else to do. They might simply want to hurt people. Perhaps all of the above.

Gordon Brown is on the march. He has a new eagerness to propagate his statistics and an even greater confidence that he will leave the world a better place. It is really quite revolting to witness.

His neo-colonial programme is intended to do to Africa what he hopes to do to the NHS.

He will provide money to allow them local autonomy as long as they do what he wants them to. This way, he insists, Labour is going to halve global poverty by 2015. The only way he can do that, incidentally, is to make the rich very much poorer. Much poverty (no one knows quite how much) is a statistical trick. But statistical trickery is what Gordon Brown's Treasury excels in.

His deputy, the giant pygmy called Andy Smith, rose to answer Julian Lewis.

He'd been asked to accept that taxes on business had increased by £5bn a year. Andy, like a backed-up waste disposal unit issued his famous line. The tax burden was falling (huh?). How about Britain dropping a dozen places down the international competitiveness table? That showed "we understand competitiveness" (wah!). And what would he say to the company in Nicholas Winterton's constituency that will have to pay an extra £85,000 in tax? Andy said he'd point to the low tax environment that the Government has created.

The things they say.

"This is a business-friendly tax", and "the climate change levy improves competitiveness", and "You should be welcoming this, not complaining".

If they were on oath, it would be perjury. They'd get four years for it. Hang on: they've already done four years and they've just been given another four.

I blame society.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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