The Sketch: With the vast increase in state power, we'd better get on Hoon's good side

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The Independent Online

The Leader of the House told Britain this week that it had the most "intrusive and dismissive media in the world". It was hard not to feel some small glow of recognition. But we must never be complacent (not that I've ever found out why).

There's no immediate need to be unkind about Mr Hoon; he's a grey fellow trying for a bit of colour. And as he so often says: "I should have thought that would be a matter for congratulation and of celebration rather than of criticism." But imagine a Britain in which we gave ministers the benefit of every doubt. It's too absurd.

One insignificant example: he was asked why there had been 39 written statements released on the day before the recess. Oh, he said airily, it was part of the procedures of the House and people would complain if the Government didn't release statements.

The question actually pointed out that there is no opportunity to question the contents of these statements with everyone on holiday. Thus, David Heath told the House, there is a specific rule in the ministerial code that says statements should not be released the day before a recess. So why had it been ignored? Hoon responded by saying Heath was a loser and had failed to do as well as he'd wanted in the Liberal Democrat leadership elections. So that cleared that up. But intrusively, you think? Dismissively? We can at least celebrate that.

"The fact is this Government has been reducing tax!" Dawn Primarolo said in Treasury questions, to cries of actual Opposition pain. They're right to be hurt. They have had so little effect on the argument they still can't get an outright win on the level of the tax burden.

How can the Government fiddle something as essential as that? Oh, they include VAT in the level of GDP and that makes the tax burden a smaller percentage of a larger total; they confuse everyone by conflating the tax and benefit system so that a family with two children pays no net tax on an income of £24,000. They reduce tax significantly in a small area and increase it a fraction in a vast area.

The statistics have been so debauched and politicised that the level of the tax burden seems a subjective experience; it's almost a matter of personal preference.

But the Opposition's grand failure - the most enduring theme of the past nine years - has been to cast this Government in a Conservative narrative. As a result there really isn't an Opposition. So the Prime Minister's boast may be correct: "The changes are irreversible."

Yes, the vast increase in power of the political class, in breadth, depth and intensity may well be irreversible. In which case, we'd better start trying to get on Geoff Hoon's good side.

Simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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