The Sketch: Some fun amid the austerity, courtesy of a slumbering Ken Clarke

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The Independent Online

You were worried. Let me relieve your anxieties – they all had a lovely time. Ken Clarke, looking like he'd spent the night in a crack house, fell asleep on the front bench, causing what is known as "merriment". It's an austerity virtue to enjoy yourself so much with so little.

There was tremendous cheering, jeering and cries of "Shame!" MPs laughed, chanted, shouted and pointed and then went off for a jolly good lunch with a thumping subsidy. As we have been assured from both front benches that we are "a generous nation", I thought you'd want to know that.

The high spirits were partly down to the way party leaders now talk about the Budget. It is grossly simplified; a cartoon; a scheme; a playground version of economic debate. This is entirely admirable. For the first time in years we have a chance of grasping what the debate actually is.

Nicky Morgan set the tone at the end of PMQs. She'd been talking to some "very bright economics students who'd come to the conclusion we can't spend money we don't have".

Such talk is derided by experts but national accounts are actually very like household budgets – if the right timescale is applied.

George Osborne's Budget was dressed in a number of eye-catching facts, but its central message was stated plainly: "Private sector growth must take the place of government deficits."

Actually, that needs a bit of copy editing, now I see it in print, but the thrust of it is clear. The state is spending too much.

Osborne fortified his message with some fact-like assertions. Our banks were less sound than Chad's, the state is spending over half of GDP, our tax code is longer than India's, debt is still rising – and this would win an election if one were called tomorrow – interest rates would go to Greek levels if Labour's plans were in place.

With mortgages heading into double figures, you can see Labour's poll lead collapse in a wrinkled heap of detumescence.

The Labour leader – Ed Miliband, for those who haven't heard of him – put in a belting performance. It's the hardest speech of the year and the biggest occasion. He enjoyed a retumesence – if that's a word – and rose to it.

Where Osborne nailed the central defence (interest rates), Ed scored with the central charge (growth). He even got his party in on cue to chant: "Down! Down! Down!" He got off some pretty good abuse on the subject of the weather (which George had blamed for the economy stalling over Christmas). It had been "the right sort of snow for a ski-ing holiday but the wrong sort of snow for a recession." That pleased his party very much.

And when he got to Ken Clarke falling asleep, three of his front bench pointed and put two hands together beside their ear. Then pointed again and then repeated the sleeping baby gesture while everyone laughed. "They may be enjoying opposition a little too much," my colleague murmured.



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