The Sketch: Concern for the vulnerable? They couldn't care less

Simon Carr
Sunday 23 October 2011 07:32

Well, there it is, now we know. From its statement on public spending cuts, the coalition's "concern for the vulnerable" is revealed as a hoax. They couldn't care less about the weak, the fragile, the incapacitated. If they cared, they'd never have made Danny Alexander answer questions for an agonising hour, exposing to the Commons his parliamentary disabilities and piteous lack of preparation. That was not an example of "compassionate Conservativism" (unless, of course, it was).

Danny is the coalition's second Chief Secretary to the Treasury, replacing that young Patroclus David Laws. Normally you'd expect to get to Danny in Year Three of the second term when halfway through the second barrel of Chief Secretaries. Danny had the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury to contend with. Liam Byrne laid aside his affectation of good-humoured nonchalance and affected the manner of an aggressive and angered hamster. Attack, he had decided, was the best form of attack. And he was right. Faced with the furry fury, poor Danny decided the best form of defence was shaking, stammering, stuttering and rolling up in a ball on the floor.

From Liam Byrne's passionate squeaking, you'd never have thought he had marked out £50bn worth of cuts of his own, or that his boss Alistair Darling had promised "more severe cuts than Thatcher". He declared that these cuts, amounting to 0.05 per cent of this year's government spending, were insignificant – while at the same time claiming they would cause immeasurable anguish in the country. Still, if you can't ride two horses, you've no business being in the circus. Danny can't ride two horses – I'm not sure he can ride a tricycle.

His main line of argument was that Labour had cruelly raised hopes by promising the spending of money that wasn't there. This argument was disposed of by Derek Twigg's observation that Permanent Secretaries demand written authorisation for questionable spending – and no such letters were written. Danny's answer relied too heavily on trembling. Another claim – that the Future Jobs Fund wasn't value for money – that was knocked out of the ground by Chuka Umunna, who reported that as the data for this project hadn't been returned yet, there was no way of evaluating success or failure. "I don't have to answer that if I faint," Danny said, more or less.

Angela Smith made the most dashing contribution – she said that pulling the plug on a loan for Sheffield Forgemasters was an act of "spite" because "Sheffield votes Labour". Danny said words to the effect of, "I've got red hair, you know!"

Anyway, they were all able to cry "Shame!" at each other, and each side accused the other of causing misery and unemployment and death, and everyone demanded apologies from everyone else and a pretty good time – considering it was Thursday – was had by all.

Bank regulation. Michael Meacher's question claimed there was nothing in the new proposals to change bankers' behaviour. He's right. Bankers shouldn't be fined half a million quid for misfeasance. They should have their house sold from under them, and their children taken out of private school. That – and only that – makes bankers assess risk prudently. The rest, as Meacher says, is "shifting around the institutional infrastructure".

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