Last night's Question Time from Newcastle was understandably devoted to Northern Rock. Perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of it was the reaction of the audience. Even allowing for the fact that this is a Labour-supporting area, there was no great outpouring of anger against the Government, confirming me in my view that this is not currently being seen by the public as "Labour's Black Wednesday."
This week has been Vince Cable's moment of triumph after advocating nationalisation from the start, but he was surprisingly understated last night. Maybe this is what makes him such an effective operator. He also told it like it is, risking the wrath of the North-East audience saying "it is very clear that the Bank has to be shrunk."
By contrast, Derek Simpson, general secretary of Unite, played to the gallery and spoke up for the workers. It was significant, though, that he got the biggest cheers of the evening not for lambasting the government, but for saying that he "has trouble understanding Conservative policies."
That was not necessarily the fault of Tory panellist Alan Duncan, the shadow minister for Tyneside, but like David Cameron and George Osborne earlier in the week, he failed to articulate a plausible alternative policy, nor explain which of the six different policies espoused by the Tories since last autumn was curently in favour.
Spectator Political Editor Fraser Nelson made the point that Gordon Brown's regulatory framework had been at fault for allowing the situation at NR to get out of control in the first place, but without pointing out that the Tories have previously favoured even lighter regulation. I rate Fraser pretty highly as an operator but I thought this was a rather careless omission.
Ruth Kelly, for the government, was impressive in a quietly authoritative sort of way. Apart from one brief foray into Ed Balls-style spouting of economic bullet-points (someone should tell Labour that the political dividend from Bank of England independence has long since been used up) she seemed to be on her home ground talking about economic matters. Could she yet be the first female Chancellor?