The Sketch: Willetts is a fine, intelligent, helpful, consensual fellow - he has to go

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The Independent Online

Pop quiz. There's an election coming up. What's the Tory slogan? What do they stand for? Clue: it's got 10 words and five ideas. Of course it's a beacon of clarity. Have to hurry you. Anyone? Don't ask me, what are you asking me for? Am I an investigative journalist suddenly?

Pop quiz. There's an election coming up. What's the Tory slogan? What do they stand for? Clue: it's got 10 words and five ideas. Of course it's a beacon of clarity. Have to hurry you. Anyone? Don't ask me, what are you asking me for? Am I an investigative journalist suddenly?

I guarantee 20 per cent of Tory MPs wouldn't get all five points either. Have a stab at it. What words will the Tory party be fighting the election with? Thinner policemen. Armed doctors. Invade Finland. No Slogan.

Brilliant. That'll work. It's a 100-seat majority.

This Tory party has been tailored - by the Prime Minister, incidentally - to be the most unelectable in history. Displaying their urgent appetite for electoral conquest, a full half-dozen Conservative backbenchers appeared for question time. Not quite twice that for their Opposition day debate.

The lowest point of Work and Pensions questions came when David Willetts was sat on. It's happened before but I felt it this time. Nice young Tim Loughton had referred to the £5bn a year tax with which Gordon Brown personally and single-handedly wrecked our pension industry. This tax had been justified, Mr Loughton said, by our soaraway stock market. Now that our stock market was one of the worst-performing in the West, could the tax be removed?

The reply was appalling. A government minister said that Mr Willetts (Tory in charge of party pension policy) had been offered a chance to say he'd repeal the tax and said: "Actually, I don't think we'll be doing that." I despair. No, I do. But then I couldn't get through a Sketch doing anything else. It's no wonder the great rolling moral catastrophe of Work and Pensions makes me so cheerful.

David Willetts is a fine fellow. Intelligent, helpful, consensual. He raised the problem, I think, of an abatement regime applying to the Savings Credit rules of the Pension Credit. "An important point about an intricate matter," the minister allowed.

Willetts must go! He's become institutionalised. These complexities are a fistful of faeces in the public's face. They nourish only experts, technocrats and ambitious aspirants in the political class. Knowing the difference between the guaranteed element in the basic state pension and the credit element in means- tested savings is a crime against the spirit. Mr Willetts has put out a perfectly good pension policy. He calls it Bogoff. This means Buy One Get One Free. Among other things. But you knew that.

This lack of clarity in the Conservative party is a symptom of a much more fundamental problem. Either that they don't know what they think any more, or that they know what they think but daren't say it.

Both possibilities will take them to the brink of extinction. But no further? Oh yes, all the way.

simoncarr75@hotmail.co.uk

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