As the Top Tory Spin Doctor said in his genius briefing to my new best friend Nick Watt of The Guardian earlier this week, authenticity is the key in modern communications.

It explains why, despite the extraordinarily tough hand Alistair Darling had to play yesterday, and despite (perhaps because of) the overshrill Tory response, personally he emerged well from the Budget. 

I have no idea whether the latest poll showing the Tory lead down to two is accurate or not. But I do know the polls have narrowed, and I do know that the choice of who people trust with the economy has been central to that.

Alistair has been around a long time, one of a tiny handful to have held ministerial positions since May 1997 to the present day.

The authentic AD is not dull, as often stated, but sober, serious, with a sometimes gloomy disposition often pepped up with self-deprecating humour.

He is also someone who finds much of politics, in particular factionalism and infighting, rather tiresome. He has spent most of his career being defined, when TB was in charge, as a Brownite. I would say he defied that easy separation. Rather than ever being a fully paid up member of any grouping, I always found him a fully paid up member of the Grown Up Tendency, a team player.

His credibility and authority, and his contrast with George Osborne, make him an absolutely key campaigner in the forthcoming election. Frankly the more we see of him the better.

Talking of people who defy easy Blairite-Brownite labelling, (these days at least) the same goes for Peter Mandelson. It is possible to detect in the Budget the development of some of his ideas for a new and exciting industrial strategy. And whereas I know there are still some who shout and scream every time he comes on the box, the people who like to see him least are the Tories. At his best, he reminds me a bit of Michael Heseltine in his pomp, and (technically speaking) I can’t say fairer than that. The Mandelson-Ken Clarke debates of the coming weeks will be splendid.

On Monday we have a Channel 4 debate involving AD, Osborne and Vince Cable, which unfortunately I will miss as it coincides with a long-promised fundraiser in Yorkshire. A year ago, the prospect of such a three-way debate might not have filled Labour activists with glee, not least because of the chatterati’s love-in with Vince Cable, and the Tories’ sizeable lead in state of the parties polling as well as ratings on economic competence. Now the chances are it is an ace card, which Alistair is likely to play well.

Ps … Nick Watt and I are loving the spin by TSD on their decision to hire a second ad agency, M and C Saatchi, to ‘work alongside’ Euro RSCG. Here are the explanations quoted by Campaign magazine…

A Tory spokesman said: ‘We’re delighted with the contribution Euro has made and will continue to make as we near the election.’ Come on Nick, take it down …

David Jones, the global chief executive of Euro RSCG, said: ‘There are a lot of people in the ad industry who would like to see the end of Brown’s regime. All great ideas that help us achieve that are welcome.’ Aw sweet … and so typical of the ad industry’s non-competitive, teamwork-across-the-companies approach to advertising.

And absolutely nothing to do wih the airbrushed poster disaster/Belize dosh down the drain drama. No, not at all. Come on Nick, what about ‘Poster wars — Tory turmoil over how to waste Ashcroft cash.’ Come on, just for me.

*** Buy The Blair Years online and raise cash to fight the Tories, Euro RSCG, M and C Saatchi and Lord Belize