Alex Massie

When Wee George and Old Man Vince Met the Badger

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Well, as Pete says there were few fireworks during the finance debate. Then again, why would one expect there to be? By and large the three gentlemen agree with one another more than they disagree. When that's the case you probably shouldn't expect a proper tear-up. Their arguments were, by and large, about the route not the destination. Sure, there's the occasional difference of emphasis and sometimes of timing too but let's not pretend that there isn't quite some degree of consensus.

I suppose you could consider the creation of that consensus a Labour achievement but it's not one the party can really boast about. Curiously, however, it is almost as if the media is currently saying, "Look it doesn't much matter how we got here, the only thing that matters is how we get out. Now, who knows how to read a map?" In part, for sure, that's because the Tories didn't anticipate the financial shipwreck either and in part it reflects a curious, again media-driven, notion that "Yes, yes, everyone hates Gordon, deal with it and let's move on, OK?" that has the odd effect of discounting both Brown's responsibility for the Era of No Money and suggesting that it's piling on and bullying to remind folk of this. If it doesn't quite give Labour a free pass, it certainly doesn't leave them as handicapped as they might be.

Of course that may only be true if Gordon stays off the teevee. I don't think his name was mentioned once on Monday, even if the entire debate took place within the shadow cast by his baleful influence. But he's got to come out eventually, right? At some point, perhaps not until voters are actually casting their ballots, the realisation will sink in that voting Labour increases the chances that there'll be another five years of Gordon. You might have to think Dave and the Tories really useless for that not to make you pause for a second.

So who won? On the National Insurance kerfuffle (ably summarised by Tom Clougherty here) I thought Darling and Cable tag-teamed Osborne quite effectively, not least because Osborne persisted in calling his plans a tax cut when, for average earners, they're actually just not a tax rise - which isn't quite the same thing.

Overall, Cable was able to play both sides, casting himself as both the Wise Man and the populist bashing both main parties. Darling reminded one that, perhaps alone amongst Labour ministers, his status has risen these past 18 months while Osborne was passable but didn't do much to inspire a great deal of confidence in his abilities.

Alternatively, if you were to judge performances against expectations Darling and Osborne may have prevailed but I'm not sure that will really be shown to matter much more than any of the rest of it. That is to say, Iain Martin's verdict seems about right to me.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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