13 JUNE 1998, Page 29


Stuffed or quacking ducks and shadowy rabbits need a touch of rancour and asperity


Knneth Clarke as Chancellor had the engaging habit of leaning across the dis- patch box to trade insults. 'They have no idea,' he would cry, pointing to Gordon Brown and his supporting cast of shadows. They just sit there like stuffed ducks.' Mr Brown made his name in opposition by Insulting Nigel Lawson, and his entourage will never win prizes for good manners, but trading insults is a game for two or more to play, and until now he has had no opposi- tion to speak of. His shadows have sat there like shadowy rabbits. He took over in the fifth year of a recovery, when the feel-good factor so carefully stoked up by his prede- cessor came though with a whoosh on the morning after the election. Like a duck quacking boastfully after a thunderstorm, he is apt to believe that his paddling skills have caused him to rise in the world. He has not until now been seriously challenged in debate, which is always a bad sign. The last economic policy espoused by all three parties was to put the pound into the exchange rate mechanism and see what happened. Until that policy collapsed, I had to do the opposition's job for it. Chancel- lors and their policies need to be exposed to what F.E. Smith called the rancour and asperity of party politics. In the end, eco- nomic events do it for them. The heavens open and the next thunderstorm blasts them off their perch. While we wait, though, a touch of opposition is in order, and I hope that Francis Maude as shadow Chan- cellor will be the man to supply it. Rancour and asperity are up his street. He might start by questioning the Chancellor's assumption that we should join the single currency When the time is ripe. (That was what we were told about the ERM.) He should also take a hard look at the Treasury.