Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Oh, Darling

It was jaw-dropping stuff. The Commons chamber is home to more than its fair share of fake anger and pantomime drama, but the clashes over Alistair Darling's statement yesterday were real enough.

The gasps from MPs were genuine as the sheer scale of the security breach of child benefit details - and details of how they were lost - emerged.

The body language on the Government front bench, in the words of Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail, suggested the demeanour of "the hired mourners from a Chicago funeral partner".

Calling off the election that never was, Gordon Brown said his Government had proved its competence during his first months in office. Ministers can't be held directly responsible for an official sending the UK's entire child benefit data in the internal post, but questions of competence have followed cock-ups at the Home Office and the Northern Rock debacle.

This week - two emergency Darling statements in two days - has evoked memories for some MPs of some of the less good days enjoyed by John Major's Government. Remember John Smith, late Labour leader?

"If we were to offer this tale of events to the BBC Light Entertainment Department as a script for a programme I think the producers of Yes Minister would have turned it down as hopelessly over the top. I think it might have even been too much for Some Mothers Do Have 'Em. But Madam Speaker, the tragedy for us all is that it is really happening, it is fact, not fiction. The man with the non-Midas touch is in charge. No wonder we live in a country where the Grand National doesn't start and the hotels fall into the sea".

Gordon Brown's Government isn't there yet, but the economic forecasts are less than rosy and once an administration loses a reputation for competence it's very hard to recover - ask John Major.

Alistair Darling has been criticised for dullness, but he is widely seen at Westminster as one of the more competent Ministers. Perhaps he's just been unlucky to have been holding the parcel when the music stopped.

Mr Brown's favourite joke, in his last job, was that there are two types of Chancellor -
those who fail and those who get out in time. Mr Brown doesn't think he failed.

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