"Jeremy, I don't think many things are certain in this world."
No prizes for those who decide the latter is more likely. Indeed, if we're to believe Paul Waugh, then Conservative Central Office logged the Smith interview as a "Slight Govt win; Smith strong", apparently at the same time as Twitter (spit) was lighting up with comment on the horror of it all. 24 hours later and the encounter between Smith and Paxman has been viewed on YouTube over 70,000 times, which for a political interview that doesn't include a fight or something scatological occurring is fairly astonishing. Watching it live last night I thought I was going to die; revisiting it now it's still funny in places, but more noteworthy for just how total Smith's ineptitude is. She started her tour of the various news studios at Radio 4, moved onto Channel 4 where she was partially saved by the time constraint and Krishnan Guru-Murphy toying with her, before Paxman finally moved in for the kill. In one of those wonderful examples of life imitating satire, her performance so resembles that of Ben Swain in TTOI when faced with Paxman (Paxman's pieces for the show were incidentally cut from his filleting of a Labour junior minister) that it was wonder that she didn't start repeatedly blinking. "Like a lion raping a sheep but in a bad way", or like watching a kitten get gassed? Either pretty much sums it up.
Osborne, we're told, was spending his evening
Instead, as so many politicians believe, she thought she could play Paxman at his own game, and when that failed, she panicked (nice question; not many things are certain in this world; the figure is evolving somewhat; it is indeed; quite interesting in themselves; of interest perhaps in a different conversation). Which is fair enough. If I was faced with Paxman in almost any circumstances I suspect I'd make Smith look good; the point is though that if you're in government, have decided on a policy u-turn because the opposition is going to force a vote on it, and are either "unavailable" or too cowardly to come out and explain why yourself, you really ought to ensure that you're not making things even worse by sending out someone so ill-prepared to defend it that it's the only thing everyone within the political word is talking about the next day.
The actual politics involved in not raising fuel duty ought to be fairly straightforward. It isn't a very good idea to raise taxes on everyone who drives when the economy is up shit creek, to misquote Mervyn King, and while it's not going to put any money directly back in people's pockets it does sort of count as a small stimulus as long as there is money from underspend available to plug the gap. It's when you fail to even give an idea of where the money's going to be found to pay for it, giving the impression it's going to mean more cuts, as it well might, that it negates any advantage it could have given. It's a policy only slightly less lamentable than the one Osborne used before, when he surprised the energy industry by imposing a windfall tax to pay for a penny reduction in fuel duty. Both were drawn up on the back of a fag packet, and both have gone up in smoke.