The Week in Review: Chloe Smith, Bob Diamond and the Infinite Crisis

Crises, crises everywhere, and not pre-election promise to hide behind.
Crises, crises everywhere, and not pre-election promise to hide behind.
Ian Dunt By

It was a turning point, of sorts. George Osborne's sudden decision to U-turn on fuel duty was not just the latest in a long line of second guesses. It was uncosted – or 'funded by departmental underspends', if you like. It was therefore the first time Osborne directly capitulated on his deficit reduction plan for short-term political gain - to the tune of half a million quid, as it happened.

That was one mistake. Announcing it on the day Ed Balls tabled a parliamentary motion was another, because it handed the shadow chancellor an obvious victory. Failing to brief Cabinet or his own MPs was another. But the greatest by far was to put baby-faced Harry Potter lookalike Chloe Smith on Newsnight, where Jeremy Paxman promptly savaged her. He really didn't have a choice. It was such an obvious fob off, and she was so epically under-briefed, that not going in for the kill would have appeared patronising. But all the same, lines like "is this some kind of joke" put the exchange on another level. The next day, Tory MPs and journalists were blaming Osborne for not being gutsy enough to face Paxo himself.

It was all enough to make the Tories forget about that marvellous mood music Cameron had been playing them in earlier in the week. The prime minister, in one of the most premature election events in British political history, told them he would do more about welfare if they won in 2015. The fact they hadn't even passed their current welfare reform did not speak highly of their faith in its impact.

The fact that this initiative got mired in general inadequacy so quickly would have probably bothered Downing Street, if it wasn't for the multiple crises breaking out all over the place.

First Ed Miliband said he would support the government's Lords reform plans but not the timetable. The position is logically untenable – it's like telling someone you love them but only after tea. But it has the added benefit of prolonging the agony of Lords reform while ministerial aides resign, Tory MPs rebel and the government falls into glorious chaos.

Meanwhile, European leaders were meeting in Brussels to… you know the score. Announcement, brief spike in market confidence, eventual decline, catatonic despair, stockpiling of canned goods and shotguns. Cameron was there, looking distinctly out of shape, making lots of noise about safeguards.

But the big row was about Barclays boss Bob Diamond, who, at the time this was published, was still hanging onto his job. The row built its own momentum until Cameron was fighting off Balls' demand for an inquiry with the Vickers' report. The most likely outcome is that it is implemented more fully and more quickly. Not a bad result, actually. Meanwhile, those pesky Boris bikes with their ubiquitus branding were starting to look rather disreputable. How times change.


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