The Sketch: The new game at Westminster - 'See you, and raise you'

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The Independent Online

They're broad brush, these speeches of Gordon's, despite the appearance - and sometimes the presence - of detail.

For instance. What does he mean by: "In 2,000 enterprise areas, the time-limited incentive for commercial property purchases which will now end will be followed by a new incentive: over three years I will make available a total of £300m to drive forward local business-led regeneration"? You'd have to know what it means before you knew what it meant.

The chimps behind him hooted a bit, and flapped their red ties. The speech was markedly less prime ministerial than hitherto. They didn't understand what was going on. He didn't do soaring, as potential prime ministers are supposed to.

So they only came to life at the end when he hit his high note. Or his two high notes, to get mathematical about it.

First, there was the £200 tax credit, or rebate, or backhander or whatever the pre-election term is, to help pensioners with the council tax. Then he announced free bus passes for the elderly (restrictions apply). The first had the bench monkeys screeching and bouncing in their seats and the second had them snatching each others' bananas. The cunning plan to win the election had been revealed in all its foxiness.

It was a giveaway budget, of course. But it was a takeaway budget too. The Chancellor was clear about who was being given to; he was very cagey about who was being taken from.

The reduction of stamp duty is resulting in a rise in stamp duty revenues. So the Red Book says. Or so Oliver Letwin says the Red Book says. First-time buyers will pay less stamp duty but who will have to pay a hell of a lot more - we don't yet know.

There was something for everyone. Largesse for students, pensioners, nurses, health workers, hard-working families. And for bitter, middle-aged sketch writers - a little fiscal tightening. We like a little fiscal tightening out at my end of the spectrum. Even if it's in the context of an increase in public spending of 50 per cent since 1997.

Mr Brown's concern for the huddled masses should be seen in the context of Charlie Kennedy's very solid point that the poorest 20 per cent of families pay more tax, proportionately than the better-off 80 per cent. This is so perverse as to be a favourite friend of mine.

It's very hard to know what it all adds up to. Even Oliver Letwin didn't know, in his post-Budget briefing. He was asked: "When the Chancellor says he's 'aligning North Sea oil revenues' what's he aligning them with?"

"I've absolutely no idea," one of Mr Letwin's four brains replied. The Institute of Fiscal Studies will tell us later.

Mr Letwin did point out, though, that all the good things offered by Gordon Brown were being offered by the Tories, and then some.

Trevor Kavanagh, the political editor of The Sun and now senior to the Lord Chancellor in our rapidly evolving constitution, observed: "It's: 'See you, and raise you' then, is it?"

"You have given me a line I shall use!" Mr Letwin declared bravely.

"Say it now, and we'll say you said it," one of us said.

"See you and raise you!" Mr Letwin said firmly. So there we are.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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