The Sketch: Surprise is not always the best way to attack

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The Independent Online

It was the only entirely unexpected question of the day: the Speaker interrupted a Labour backbencher to ask if she'd given the shadow Chancellor advancewarning of her attack? She'd accused him of leaking a Bank of England briefing – a very familiar charge.

But the Speaker rarely defends Tories, let alone the concentrated essence of Tories like George Osborne, so all creditto him. Incidentally, he's taken to calling some members by their Christian names. "Anne!" he summoned Anne Begg on Wednesday. And Karen!" for Karen Buck yesterday. He almost said "George", but it stuck in his throat. He'd have been at the Listerine bottle as soon as he left the chamber. So, "Karen" Buck asked if she might present a communal note of advance warning on behalf of her party. Attacking the shadow Chancellor's judgement was all they intended to do for 18 months.

She meant it as a joke. But during question time Labour used the word "judgement" 150,000 times (Conservative estimate). They are, you see, slipping into our subconsciousness the idea that their experience makes them better governors than the candidates for change. It means Osbo just won't be listened to. The "irresponsible nonsense of borrowing without limit" is a big point. But it is countered by the unanswerable riposte: "You went on a boat with a Russian billionaire!"

This scale of borrow-and-spend is amazing (to do everything from buying up banks to underpinning the property market). Osborne may well be right that the Government is "set to leave behind the biggest budget deficit of any Labour government.... for the Conservatives to clear up!"

But then again, he went on to a Russian billionaire's boat, so it's evens.

They do lack deadliness, I'm sorry to say. They haven't got anyone large and grave to say: "This is only the end of the beginning". And the younger, speedier ones haven't come up with a set of tearing aphorisms to rip up the Government's record. How do they get to the heart of the argument and also win it? How do they argue for repossessing people's homes? It's necessary, it's bound to happen and it's a price worth paying (copyright Lamont 1992) for the next boom, in five years' time. But how that is expressed in this political arena defeats me. And I'm not the only one.