Page last updated at 12:32 GMT, Friday, 16 January 2009

Martha Kearney's week

By Martha Kearney
Presenter, BBC Radio 4's World at One

It is not so surprising that a Goat should be tempted by some green shoots.

Shriti Vadera's difficulties this week illustrate one of the pitfalls of modern politics.

Lord Mandelson and Baroness Vadera
Lord Mandelson defended his minister

She is a Goat, a member of the Government of All the Talents, Gordon Brown's self-styled efforts to bring greater expertise into government by using the House of Lords.

(Pedants may argue she is not really a Goat because she worked for Brown, not another party, but that wrecks my feeble joke.)

When the former banker was asked whether she could see any green shoots (Norman Lamont's notorious phrase), she replied that she could see a few and was leapt upon for underestimating the scale of the recession.

Sound bites

A more seasoned politician would have avoided the phrase altogether.

We constantly demand more frankness from our politicians but when they are more open, they can face harsh criticism.

Hence those terrible - but safe - "Speak Your Weight" style interviews, when the same irritating sound bite is used again and again.

So what should the balance be between authenticity and political control?

The best spin in the world can not put a gloss on the most pressing problem facing the government at the moment which is how to increase lending

I heard a funny story this week about Peter Mandelson and the late Labour leader John Smith.

Mandelson was desperate to win back favour, so during the Newbury by-election, his aides checked and re-checked people who would be suitable for the Labour leader to meet during his walkabout.

All went well, no Sharon Storers [the woman who berated Tony Blair about her husband's cancer care], so he expected high praise afterwards.

Instead John Smith said: "See, there's no need for spin. Those people were all perfectly nice."

So Peter Mandelson had to wait until Tony Blair became leader for his first comeback.

Several political rebirths later he is clearly enjoying his new role, positively flirting with MPs of all parties on the Commons business committee this week.

But the best spin in the world can not put a gloss on the most pressing problem facing the government at the moment, which is how to increase lending.

When I interviewed the prime minister this week, we explored some of the issues.

Some banks will not lend because of "toxic assets" on their books, potentially bad debts which could eat up their capital.

Should the government buy them up?

"But what value can be placed on them?" replied the PM.

More work is being done on that issue but we will see more Treasury measures announced soon.

A favourite idea seems to be one suggested in the Crosby report for the government to guarantee mortgage-backed bonds.

They were the means the banks used to finance lending before the wholesale markets seized up. We will know more next week.

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