The Sketch: The Commons elevates things you might hear in bars into wisdom

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The Independent Online

The facts have changed, and so has Vince Cable, nothing wrong with that. He is the new Lord Mandelson. No one is a greater admirer of Lord M than myself – I'm a Peterphile and proud of it, I confess it everywhere I go and ignore the looks I get.

Vince has inherited some of his predecessor's suppleness. For one thing, he is now dignified by the very office he pledged to abolish and demolish and sow with salt. It was the Department of Trade and Industry then, but now it is called something else and he is its minister.

For another, he controls the Regional Development Agencies, the very institutions he had marked down to be abolished, demolished and sown with salt. It now seems it won't happen quite like that. No, rather than falling on them like a thunderbolt Vince is going to turn them into Local Enterprise Partnerships. I bet they'll be streamlined, I bet their flexibility will be maximised. Yes, and "sometimes they may take a similar form to RDAs", he said, as if to reassure his audience.

"I beseech you," new Tory Margot James beseeched. She was still of the ploughing-with-salt opinion. She said that a third of the money given them went into administration, and much of the rest went into signposting information available elsewhere in government.

Labour's Emma Reynolds is too new to be rude about but she defended RDAs with an argument presented in the last parliament. Every pound put into one of these agencies created an extra £7 of benefit, she told us.

The House of Commons does elevate the things you hear in saloon bars into wisdom. It's unlikely Ms Reynolds knows any more about this than I do but turning one pound into seven makes RDAs a commercial competitor to Goldman Sachs. If it were true, if they were indeed perpetual money machines, it would mean governments could create wealth by hiring one lot of civil servants to administer another lot. But then we wouldn't be in the mess we are now.

The exchanges were generally polite and well-weighted – though John Mann, Chris Bryant, Angela Eagle and David Lammy presented themselves as alternative role models for the new intake. "Hypocrites, pious, sanctimonious" being favoured terms. It's a little early in the day to be drinking that strength brew.

We had a nice shot from shadow Pat McFadden on Vince: "We both worked for the late John Smith, before he fell in with the wrong crowd... And now fallen in with an even worse crowd." It made the Liberals laugh, which is only fair.

From his solid but uneventful debut, what do we think Vince will be doing with the banks? Well, facts change. Events shape policy. It is possible to imagine from his unabolished, undemolished department that Vince will lighten bank regulation, encourage credit derivatives, ban commercial lending to small businesses, and insist they double their bonus pool to attract a better class of fiscal criminal.

Anything can happen, it's like being young again.