It's possible that the strain has finally got to Chancellor Sooty…
The first rule of politics is: treat EVERY journalist you meet as a dangerously-feral berserk cat-monster, and every microphone pointed at you as a bazooka loaded with live snakes.
What you certainly DON'T do is invite a hack to your Highland Croft for forty-eight hours while you go into your best Victor Meldrew impression!
And you don't get to be a Cabinet Minister for eleven years without knowing this.
Though what's REALLY astonishing is the Editor of the Grauniad publishing something PLUTONIUM-level radioactive disguised as a LIFESTYLE puff-piece.
It's the way that the casual slap-downs for Ms Wendy "Douglas in a Wig" Alexander and Ms Cherry "On the Top" Blairimort are sandwiched between the light-hearted badinage about his wife's cooking and his dry wit; it's the way that the focus is more on Sooty's interrupted holidays than on the collapse of Northern Rock (even if we get the old canard that that was the first run on a British Bank in a hundred years. Which it wasn't.); it's the way that the real KILLER punch…
The economic times we are facing "are arguably the worst they've been in 60 years," he says bluntly. "And I think it's going to be more profound and long-lasting than people thought."…is followed by some whimsy about his love of Leonard Cohen and favourite films.
Arguable? ARGUABLE? A statement so PROFOUNDLY likely to send the Pound through the floor, you would think anyone halfway interested would at least ask him to spell out what he meant rather than drifting off onto "Midnight Cowboy".
People have been trying to praise Sooty for his FRANKNESS, but – "frankly" – veering from euphoric denial to suicidal pessimism without skirting realism in between does not help anybody, least of all his boss Mr Frown who has gone from Iron Chancellor to Great Depression faster than you can say "bankruptcy".
Is this "the worst things have been in 60 years"?
…apart from Black Wednesday, obviously. And the house price crash of the Nineties…
…and the Lawson Boom and Bust. And the Miner's Strike. And Thatcherism, unemployment, cuts, recession, boom, recession again…
…and the Winter of Discontent. You can forgive Sooty for forgetting the Winter of Discontent. And the Oil Shock. And the General Strike. And devaluation, the Three Day Week, inflation, power cuts…
…and The Sixties stop-go economy, as trade declined outside of the EEC…
…and the loss of Empire. And Suez. And American demands for repayment of war loans. And rationing continuing until 1954.
So that's at best a QUALIFIED "yes", isn't it.
Seriously, what we want from the Chancellor is to recognise that times are going to be tough, that we've borrowed too much, that the Government has not set aside cash for the hard times and that some belt-tightening is going to be the order of the day.
What we need is a sensible set of proposals to tackle the urgent issues:
- the double whammy of higher interest rates and tighter lending means many people are at risk of losing their homes so we want something to reduce the likelihood of repossession and ease the hardship that follows if it happens;
- inflation is being driven up by international food prices and foreign energy spikes, so we could do with a plan to reduce our dependence on imported energy so that we can smooth out the turbulence on the economic field;
- we know that in the longer term the Government's spending plans are unaffordable and that Sooty's borrowing is making the current crisis worse not better so we have got to get some kind of a grip on spending plans and aim to borrow less and reduce the burden on taxpayers, particularly at the lowest end of the scale.
It is NOT being frank to wail "we're dooooom'd Cap'n Mannering" into the Highland gloaming. And it's not being HELPFUL to say: "I'll have a plan in September and you can all pis… go away until then".
Some people think that this is Sooty's REVENGE on Mr Frown for dropping him in it when he became Chancellor, leaving him to carry the can for all the mistakes the new Prime Monster had left behind him. Some people think that it is Sooty pre-emptively mounting a defence of his job in the light of rumours that it is to be dumped on Mr Millipede in Mr Frown's latest relaunch-reshuffle. Some people even think that Sooty has turned to the DARK SIDE and has done this as an ATTACK on his old friend Mr Frown.
The OTHER theory is that this is a new hoot on the old NuLabour tune of "Expectation Management" – you know, that's where they say "we are SOOOOO going to be completely wiped out in these local elections" so that when instead of losing all of their seat they retain just two, they can still claim that they have EXCEEDED EXPECTATIONS and it is a massive victory, a TOTAL, BRILLIANT SUCCESS (©Magus Greel) etc…
The trouble with this is that (a) you cannot SPIN with the Economy – the more you make dire predections, the more they tend to come WORSE; and (b) do try to remember you should all be singing from the same HYMN SHEET!
Personally, though, I suspect that he's just had enough of all the Westminster scheming and double-talk and in the clear fresh air of Scotland talked like a normal person would. Forgetting that as a member of the New Labour Cabinet… he isn't remotely normal at all!