If Gordon Brown had been Master of the Titanic, it would probably never have sunk. The sheer force of prudence would have kept it afloat.

Life on the bridge would, however, have been so dull that the first officer would probably have cut off his own ears with a fretsaw rather than listen to any more of this stuff.

"The challenge a year ago ...was to steer a course of stability," said the chancellor, who was making his pre-Budget report to the house yesterday.

(Pre-Budgets are rather like those pre-desserts they serve in posh French restaurants, all guava ice cream floating on chocolate, pralines and kumquats - perfectly OK in their way, but I can never quite see the point.)

"Now the challenge is to lock in that stability and to set the course for a Britain of stability and steady growth," Mr Brown went on.

"The foundation, our first priority, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, is to lock in fiscal and monetary stability!"

"You're down to judge the knobbly knees competition in the second class lounge, captain. Please captain, you really should go now, captain, honestly ... "

"Just a wee minute. We have rigorously adhered to a clearly defined inflation target and clear fiscal rules, based on legislating ... for a regime of fiscal stability."

"But captain, we haven't even reached the Isle of Wight."

"Having come this far, we will not relax our discipline ... discipline is even more essential in the global context."

The psychology was obvious and fascinating. The Tories affect to assume that the enormous savings Mr Brown has made are designed to provide a "war chest" that will be spent on bribes just before the election.

But you only need to look at Mr Brown, and hear him hammering endlessly on about prudence and stable courses and locking in the foundations of fiscal stability, to know that he won't want to let any of it go.

It would be unfair to call him an "anal-retentive", though you sometimes think a good clearout of the system could be a reasonable idea. "Mine enemy's enema," as Peter Mandelson might call it.

You can imagine the scene at the Rev Brown's manse in Kirkaldy round about mid-December.

"Well, young Gordie, are ye coming with us on a Christmas shopping trip to Jenner's, Edinburgh's leading department store?"

"No, father, I am determined to avoid any enhanced risk of indebtedness at this stage in the fiscal cycle."

"But, laddie, your piggy bank is so full you cannae cram another farthing into it."

"Aye, father, and I can promise that there will never be a return to the days when money was squandered on bath salts, tie 'n' hank sets and soap on a rope - the bad old days of boom and bust!"

Yesterday the Tories sat silently as the chancellor gloated about how all their predictions of recession had proved wrong. The gloomiest moment of all came when he announced a cut from 40% to 10% in capital gains tax for long-term investments - "the millionaires' tax loophole", as the Lib Dems' Matthew Taylor called it.

Tax loopholes for the very rich are supposed to be a Tory idea. No wonder Mr Hague's gently mocking smile was wiped right off his face, Ann Widdecombe looked morose, and John Redwood's face was as bleak as a birch forest in winter. Only my old friend Michael Fabricant was smiling, possibly because he wasn't quite sure what was going on.

By the end of the statement the skipper was back on the bridge, spray lashing the windows, the eerie glow of the radar screen on his face, telling us yet again that he had built "a platform of a stable economy and sustainable finances".

I crept onto the deck for a bowl of stable and sustaining bouillon.



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