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The Sketch: One man's smile is another's smirk

By Simon Carr

There was much in Darling's Comprehensive Spending Thing yesterday, in the same way there's much in the Littlewoods catalogue.

Others will analyse its prudence, providence and profligacy of the Government's spending plans, but for a sketchwriter, there was no need to go past the smirk.

While the Chancellor laid out his version of popular Tory policies, the Prime Minister allowed himself to smirk. You're a fan of Gordon perhaps, so you say he smiled. You argue that he had dished the opposition, outmanoeuvred them, tactically closed them down and as a result, couldn't help allowing himself a mordant little smile. No, it was smirking. There's something sly in a smirk. You feel ignoble pleasure, you can't quite contain it, you reveal yourself losing a battle with your better nature. He saw his Chancellor denouncing the opposition for offering a tax cut, then offered more or less the same tax cut, and then said the same tax cut allowed him to spend an extra £2bn on schools and hospitals. The Government will supply a door-to-door team of linguists for your area to explain how this all works in a perfectly logical way.

But if you are inclined to do so, you could agree with Shadow Chancellor Osbo that it looks weak. For a Government to suffer a blip in the polls and then write a new policy in seven days while denouncing the people proposing the policy by saying it's unaffordable and insignificant? And then to follow hard on and do it yourself? And smirk while you do it?

Most people pay little attention to politics and less to politicians. They look at the protagonists and think: "Don't patronise me!" Or: "I'd rather suck snakebites!" Or:"Dignity! Decency! Nobility!" But it all happens in the twinkling of an eye, and there's no arguing.

Osbo isn't blessed with much of a voice but you have to sympathise with the difficulty of climbing over that wall of sound on the floor of the House. To be able to think and shout at the same time is not given to us all. But something's definitely clicked now, and he is able to yell: "It is the Tory party that believes in lower taxes!" in a way he hasn't been able to before. "There is no doubt who is winning the battle of ideas!" He said it – it didn't sound ridiculous; it bears discussion now, especially as they're talking about corporation tax at Irish levels (12.5 per cent). That'd cause the Prime Minister to smirk on the other side of his face. And there was quite a good jibe: "The Prime Minister's name appears on the front of a book called Courage but you won't find his name in the index!" And a very good theme on spending (nothing saved from the years of plenty).

Vince Cable gets a very difficult slot. When the Liberal gets up, the chamber empties and the press gallery goes off to be told what it is we've just been listening to. Anyway, he reminded us Alan Greenspan had estimated a 50 per cent chance of an American recession. The Cable estimate is more extreme for Britain, thanks to record personal debt "secured on well-above-equilibrium house prices". A recession would give Gordon a frightful knock and Vince a terrific boost – but I don't think he'd smirk about it. In this life, you're either a smirker or you're not.

Irish Independent


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