We're going to look back on this as a golden age for observers. MPs, committees, ministers, the Chancellor in charge of £700bn of taxpayers' money – they're all waaaaay out of their depth. They don't know – but the better ones know they don't know, and the best know they can't ever know.
As these huge structures such as regional development quasi advisory partnerships get dismantled or remodelled, people will be amazed at how they were ever allowed to grow like that.
So, Rachel Reeves, a new Labour member with a financial background, asked Vince Cable how much it will cost to disestab-lish one lot of the arm's-length bodies. Would it be, as suggested, £1.4bn (and no doubt more than is to be saved in the enterprise)? Ms Reeves herself didn't know, and nor did Vince Cable. It was "complex". But he would be "very happy to share details as they emerge". The redundancy payments, the legal actions under the Equality Bill, the employment tribunals' contribution... The data, the facts, the knowledge – they're all so dispersed as to make the comprehensive spending review unknowable. How many times did Vince say "I don't know"? I don't know. But it must be said he has a concise way of relaying the information. "I'll write," or "It's a good question, I'll try to find out the answer."
Gordon Brown used to take 10 minutes to reveal he didn't know, and only by answering a completely different question.
Vince may know he doesn't know. Some new members may not have achieved such enlightenment. But well done Adrian Bailey in the chair who discovered something from his questions. Something about no allocation having been made for the Regional Growth Fund. Whether that is good or bad, useful or not – it is at least knowledge. And it's wonderful how little of that there is. It's all a work in progress. Far from knowing whether it'll turn out well, we don't know what it is.
We need a new set of questions for the future. I don't know what they are. You'd have thought someone did – but they don't.
PS: David Willetts said that the university system felt it was entering "the valley of death". I hope that wasn't a reference to the Light Brigade's charge. There were surprisingly few killed for an event popularly believed to be a wipe-out – as few as 15 per cent of the Brigade died. The tertiary sector should be delighted to suffer so little. You'd think such educated people would find better imagery.