It is the normal fate of Chancellors, on the Sunday before a Budget, to see the newspapers plastered with predictions of its contents.
Today, you have to work well into the inside pages before finding out what Alistair Darling may or, more likely given how tightly the Budget is held, may not, be thinking. Instead the fall out from Damian McBride’s activities and the policing of the G20 Summit continues to dominate. The relief that may give Alistair as he works on his speech is about the only good thing that can be said of the rolling coverage of smears and emails, on which Neil Kinnock was excellent on the TV this morning.
With so much focus on spin, it is worth pointing out that one of Alistair’s strengths is his mild aversion to the presentational side of modern politics. What he announces, and the impact it makes, will be more important than how he announces it or the headlines the day after, let alone several days before.
But what the G20 showed is that proper preparation, the facing up to big difficult decisions, and the sense that our politicians are properly focussed on things that really matter to people, can have a positive impact on confidence, give direction and purpose to politics. The stalling of that has been part of the real political damage done by recent events.
This week he has to set out where we are, how we got here, and how we now move forward. The more factual and candid he is, the more likely he is to be heard.
I see both Alistair and I appear in a list of people allegedly smeared or briefed against by a unit run by Ed Balls. All I cay say is if so, I was unaware of it.
But, showing there is still money around despite economic woes, and still goodness among public figures, my attention was caught by the story a few columns away, about how David Sainsbury has become the first Briton to give away more than a billion pounds to charity.
Lord Sainsbury is one of those rare examples of someone who transferred well from a successful business career to a successful ministerial career. He was always a delight to work with when I was in Number 10, and a superb science minister. And no, that is not an invitation for him to become the next to sign up to my attempts to get fifty individuals or organisations to give fifty thousand pounds to celebrate Leukaemia Research’s fiftieth anniversary. That will come separately!
Finally, if politicians tend to read the Sunday papers with a mix of horror and trepidation, one person who must read them week after week with a sense of his own skills in shaping the popular culture agenda is Simon Cowell. The overnight sensation that is Susan Boyle and her 25 million YouTube hits is the latest chapter in Cowell’s story.
If there is a lesson from her success for politicians, it is authenticity. It is the only communication that works.