The Sketch: There is little use arguing with Mr Brown. It just doesn't work

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The Independent Online

"The Chancellor who single-handedly destroyed the public finances! The lowest investment since records began! The devastation of personal savings! Old people getting food parcels! I had to step over a girl selling matchsticks outside Parliament and she'd frozen to the pavement while her mother offered every sort of degraded, Third World personal service at ridiculously inflated prices because the Chancellor has ruined everything!"

I can't quite identify where I started making this up but that shouldn't obscure the fact that, despite any opinion to the contrary, this was the weakest pre-Budget reply speech we've had since 1876. The shadow Chancellor's account of modern Britain was an unrelenting exercise in painting the sky black. As the new Camelot philosophy is to paint the sky blue this was in keeping only with the Conservative inability to do anything right.

Nonetheless, Giddy Osborne got an enormous roar from the Tories yesterday, much bigger than the Chancellor got from his lot. But the government bench monkeys had started to wilt very early on. There's only so much cyclically adjusted debt analysis they can take without wanting a banana.

When the Chancellor announced he was "extending the exploration expenditure supplement to all ring-fenced activity", two of them couldn't take any more and, hooting noisily, started mating just for something to do. No they didn't, I dozed off for a moment.

Back to Gideon Osborne. There's one thing we know about arguing with the Chancellor: it's no use. It doesn't work.

You say we've got lower growth than Italy so he says we've got higher growth than France. You say investment has never been lower, he says investment has never been higher. You say worklessness is historically high, he says unemployment has fallen to an historic low. Everything in this sort of argument is true enough and yet no one listening is any the wiser.

Now, we know this is the case because we've witnessed it for seven years and through the combined talents of half a dozen shadow Chancellors. Giddy is the least impressive of the lot (voice, values, manner) so he can only succeed by doing what the others failed to do, and refuse to play Gordon's game. Mockery would be quite a large part of it. And that thing that Ken Clarke does to Gordon every time he stands up (difficult for a pipsqueak, I agree).

So, despite what everybody says is going to happen, I'm going to put £100 on William Hague for shadow Chancellor in the Tory reshuffle. Nothing else makes any sense. Only the Tories' instinct for death would leave him in place.

NB: Gordon's most annoying rhetorical trope is: "To meet and master global challenges". The Chinese Finance Minister made an apology earlier this year. He said: "Our strategy to keep growth under 8 per cent has only made preliminary progress." Meet that. Then master it.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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