The Sketch: To hell in a handcart – hoorah, hoorah!

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The Labour benches welcomed the collapse of the global banking system with their most reliable reprise: The Return of the Bench Monkeys. The PM talked about capital adequacy and animal noises soared up into the parliamentary architecture. Accounting technicalities had them making a rhythmic, bass grunting. And the partisan stinger that Gordon let off at Cameron at the end – that had the whole lot of them up in a chorus line, hopping and scratching under each other's arms (it really doesn't suit Jimmy Hood).

Yes, Labour is delighted with its leader once more. We may be going to hell in a handcart but at least it's their man pushing us, that's the political message from PMQs, even as the stock market continues its descent to (Sketch estimate) 3,000.

The Prime Minister announced his new proposals in an extremely uncharacteristic way. He was quite modest about them. He was pitching a possible £500bn bailout – per capita five times the size of the US bailout. And yet he didn't trumpet it, he didn't crow, he didn't congratulate himself and his government for strength, courage, coolness, resilience, far-sightedness (or he did, but only once or twice rather than every single time he stood up). That was very worrying. Any hint of modesty in Gordon is a sign of a quivering uncertainty underneath. Nobody knows how bad things are, but he seems to sense how bad they could be.

Gordon might be as solid as his few foul-weather friends have been saying he is. But the scale of what is happening dwarfs him and his colleagues, and very probably their efforts. The difficulties are so large as to be invisible.

He says it's "bad assets from the States". That's the source of all these problems. But it's not. The end-of-a-cycle recession has yet to make itself felt. Then a collapse in property led by the buy-to-let market going south. And then the great unknown – how the credit derivative market behaves. Will it quietly decline in an orderly way? Or go down like the World Trade Centre?

None of this can be said in Parliament. It's too frightful. At their most accusatory, Tories were hinting at a recession, but they can't be too bold for fear of "talking down" the economy. Cameron can make a little headway with directors' bonuses – that's a good but not great issue. And the PM can preach about the end of "irresponsible risk-taking" (though how that's defined is an enduring mystery).

But these things are of second or third order significance. Little was said in Parliament because there's little now to say. Banks used to "take the waiting out of wanting". But now we have to wait and see what they really want.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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