The Sketch: The psychotic distortions of the Chancellor

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The Independent Online

Listening to Gordon Brown yesterday, I was struck by how old-fashioned he sounds. It's a brave new Cameron-Blair world we live in now, and there's a refreshing, almost conversational discourse between the two party leaders.

We like that, don't we? Being able to hear the argument develop, live? Blair very often answers a question, especially when he has a reply to muster. For Brown, even when there is an answer, the point is not to answer. It's like one of those Radio 4 games people listen to and chuckle in their Radio 4 way even though nothing funny's been said.

Vince Cable asked: why doesn't the Treasury refinance more government debt to take advantage of historically low interest rates? Gordon answered by attacking Liberal Democrat spending plans and sat down with a flourish. And the question of why more debt hasn't been refinanced? Go back to your girlie concerns - bottoms, sanitary products - and don't bother your head with matters beyond your station.

And oh, the length at which we have to listen to this drivel. We were only at question five after 40 minutes. He excelled himself on trend productivity growth. "It's his own party he should be criticising!" he told George Osborne. This childishness is upsetting when the Chancellor deploys himself outside Britain (have you noticed how small he looks in Africa?).

Here's another one: there is no independent secretariat for the G8, Labour's John McFall pointed out, and there were 212 separate commitments undertaken at the summit. How will we know what progress has been made? Gordon's reply: he had asked for a report from each of the countries to be on the agenda. Does he think his international colleagues are going to be any franker than he is? Each will say that much has been done but more remains to do. Will he have demented himself so much as to believe them? Sir Michael Spicer tried again: "Why has productivity gone down every year since Labour came to power?" The Chancellor leapt up: productivity has been rising every year! Sir Michael might have more precisely asked why the rate of productivity growth has slowed every year, but he would have got the same answer.

Does it matter? Isn't this just quibbling? Brown's economic briefing papers for his back benchers are about the level of a traitor's broadcast in wartime - morally low are they. There comes a point when politics can become a psychosis, and Gordon Brown's distortions are so deep, so ingrained, so partisan - and so much part of the fabric of his being - as to be psychotic.