Not only has the prolonged Northern Rock fiasco undermined what little reputation for competence, economic and otherwise, remains to Alistair Darling, but it has also brought out the liar in him. This is no longer a singular fact with Labour Ministers whose policy these days is either to avoid answering the question or, if pressed, to lie through their teeth.

Thus we must congratulate Nick Robinson for picking up this little gem which he had previously stored away like the little dormouse he sometimes resembles:

Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central) (Lab): The whole House will have noted that the Liberal Democrats have as much regard for the 5,500 employees of Northern Rock in the north-east—and the 6,500 nationally—as they had for the job of their former leader. [Interruption.] Two or three faces in public, 10 in private—that is the policy of the Liberal Democrats.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the policy of nationalisation would lead to a slow lingering death for the jobs of the Northern Rock workers, its assets and Britain’s reputation as a major financial services centre, with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor cast in the role of undertaker—and that only by finding a successor business to grow on those jobs, assets and reputations can we offer any real prospect of the taxpayers getting their money back?

Mr. Speaker: Order. I remind Members that they must ask brief supplementary questions.

Mr. Darling: I agree with my hon. Friend. It is regrettable and surprising that the Liberal Democrats never seemed to support our earlier proposals to keep Northern Rock open. It would also, however, be a mistake to shut off all other options and simply go for one at this stage; that does not seem to me to make any sense at all. [Hansard 19 November 2007]

This morning on ‘Today’ John Humphrys elicited a denial from Darling that he had made such a concession.

Since when the Lefty press have been desperately trying to row Darling out of it on the basis that he was agreeing to the statement Cousins had made concerning the Liberal ‘Democrats’ rather than the question. The problem is that the reply “I agree…” came immediately after the question asked and the third sentence of Mr. Darling’s remarks also indicate that he was answering the question asked and not responding to the statement per se, not least because the statement did not mention any specific policy being espoused by the Lib ‘Dems’. So all the efforts at the usual weaselly ‘taken out of context’ by the fellow-travellers are in fact unavailing.

Mr. Darling is, of course, a solicitor, so one can be sure that he was very carefully answering only the questions put to him rather than answering something which was not even a question, can’t one?

UPDATE: It appears that we were mislead by both Nick Robinson and Hansard in that this particular weasel was not, on this occasion at any rate, lying through his teeth. Robinson has now listened to the tape of the exchange which reveals that the Hansard version is miles off beam (I had always thought it only made minor alterations of a word or two but this is a wholesale difference) and exonerates Darling which leaves us in this position: (1) Darling did not lie on this occasion when he told Humphrys he had not agreed that nationalising Northern Rock would mean a long lingering death’ and (2) Darling is still an incompetent doormat for Gordon Brown to wipe his feet on when there is mud being thrown.