Bob Russell, a leading member of the Liberal Democrat awkward squad, forced the Chancellor of the Exchequer to come to the House yesterday to answer a question about public spending.

There was a time, early in the life of the coalition, when it was hardly possible to pass a parliamentary day without Mr Osborne arriving to tell the House something new about his cuts, but he seems to have tired of the despatch box lately.  Worse, like the unspeakable cad he so unfailingly resembles, he has allowed his lascivious attention to wander off towards other outlets including, last week, the BBC. It was in a television interview on Thursday last that slimy Georgie announced he would be carving an extra £4 billion from the benefits budget over and above the carving he had already announced.

Mr Russell, by the looks of him, is not a man prone to outbreaks of psychotic anger but there was so much in the Chancellor’s actions to get him cross yesterday that he hardly knew where to start. There was the fact that Mr Osborne had announced the extra cuts to the BBC and not to the House.  There was the fact that, by aiming his axe at benefits for the long-time unemployed, he appeared to be blaming Britain’s economic ills on the work-shy when, as anybody knows, if only a handful of bankers had been a little more shy about doing their work we wouldn’t be in the financial hole in the first place. There was the Chancellor’s “immature” public battle with the welfare secretary Iain Duncan-Smith which, to my mind at least, conjured up the image of the two of them thrashing about in an ornamental fountain, pace Hugh Grant and Colin Firth in Bridget Jones The Edge of Reason.

Nonetheless, as Mr Russell ploughed on through the indictment sheet,  one sensed that the real sources of his rage remained unspoken. These were variously that Mr Osborne exists. That, through the quirks of good fortune, opportunism and privilege, he has risen to become the second most powerful man in the country, And that, worst of all, Mr Russell finds himself shackled politically to this oily achiever by virtue of a coalition agreement that he didn’t want and which he would gladly repudiate if only he could pluck up the courage to do so.

I doubt whether the Chancellor’s reply would have done much to make the member for Colchester feel any better.  Georgie unctuously thanked him for giving him the opportunity to make a statement on spending, implying that this had been on his mind to do so all along and that it was only thanks to the sheer genius of Mr Russell that the chance had now arisen. And he referred to him as “my honourable friend” which, parliamentary convention now dictates, is how the Tory overlords refer to Quisling Lib Dems, reserving the alternative “honourable member” for those of their notional coalition partners whom they know to be hostile.  Mr Russell sunk back deflated and defeated.

Leaving the floor open for Yvette Cooper, standing in for the shadow chancellor who was otherwise engaged. She tried a different tack. Mr Osborne’s Thursday announcement, she maintained, had all been a cynical ploy to divert the media’s attention from harassing Andy Coulson, the nation’s chief phone fiddler (or so it is alleged).  Though no expert in how the spending review works, I am guessing that the Chancellor doesn’t turn on the television, see that the news is running with a story disadvantageous to the Tory Party and turn to his aide and say “I know, we’ll take another £4 billion out of social security”.  If it does, then the logic of this dubious proposition is that the Labour Party had better stop giving the Tories grief or else pretty soon there will be no public spending left.

It will take more than this to disturb the Chancellor’s granite sense of superiority and, on the day, it did. It took Sir Gerald Kaufman no less, raging from inside one of his notorious beige suits about a constituent who, he said, was being so mucked around by the administration of  tax credits, that he was literally penniless, save for the goodwill of his local church. For a moment it looked as if the Chancellor was going to give another of his sixth form common room replies, but this is Kaufman we are talking about.  I’ll look into to it, right away sir, he said (or words to that effect) and sat down.

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