The Sketch: The lunatics are borrowing money to save the asylum

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The Independent Online

In the original meaning of the word, it's a shambles. A slaughterhouse. A complete bloody mess. Labour backbenchers, those beasts of burden who have suffered under the yoke for a decade, are now so bewildered they don't even know their heads have been cut off. It suits some of them more than others, I must say.

When the Chancellor said that 600,000 people had been taken out of tax, they cheered. They roared. But as George Osborne pointed out, they'd cheered the tax cuts that got them into this mess and now they were cheering the tax cuts that were supposed to get them out of it. Is Labour now officially the party of tax cuts? How did that happen? Is this the new plan? Peter Lilley said that every time the Tories had proposed tax cuts the world was told this would inevitably produce cuts in nurses and teachers. And where was the money coming from? Borrowing, Alistair Darling said. He was going to borrow it.

Can we try to begin to imagine what Gordon Brown would have said as Chancellor if told to borrow to fund a tax cut? Every word of his answer would have begun with F. Borrowing to fund tax cuts!

In the gory atmosphere Darling said some things that look bizarre in print: the Tories' position on the issue is "completely confused". Labour has been doing a St Vitus dance round the issue. The Government is ideologically spastic on the issue.

There was another cause for indignation. Oliver Letwin suggested that a one-off tax rebate announced a week before a by-election was inconsistent with electoral law. Another Tory said it was the most shameless attempt to buy an election since the Humber Bridge. And Charles Walker, on a point of order, claimed that the compensation details were already in leaflets being distributed in Crewe.

I am unshockable of course (I had an operation) but that made my hair stand up.

What a bloody chainsaw massacre it all is. A 10-year reputation for prudence, detail, competence torn to pieces and flung into the Commons. The PM sat there with a new expression – a serene, above-the-clouds face that is meant to say, "This was the plan all along", but actually says: "I have come to the conclusion that I am the way, the truth and the light."

Frank Field's apology to Gordon came without malice. Over the weekend he had allowed his campaign "to become personal" and he apologised unreservedly. Oh yes, Frank had given an interview saying the PM was so unhappy he'd have to resign before the next election. I'd hate to see Frank if malice ever got him in its grip.