Alistair Darling is an honourable man who made the best of delivering a doomed message. But the populist one-off tax on bankers' bonuses is transparently unworkable - as Vince Cable, the Lib Dem Treasury spokesman, asked, what is to stop banks paying bonuses as salary?
George Osborne's response to the pre-Budget report was strong on rhetoric; weak on substance. He had the basic survival instinct to avoid the trap laid for him, although his foot did go right over the edge. He condemned the National Insurance rise on incomes over £20,000 a year as a tax on jobs, but the point about that is that it is not coming in until 2011, so it is, from his point of view as someone that hopes to be Chancellor by then, entirely a matter for him. Yet he didn't say what he would do.
Darling in his response to the response exposed the flaw in the Government's argument. He told the Conservatives that the deficit had to be reduced "in a way that doesn't damp down demand". One of the differences between the parties is that Labour says don't start the squeeze yet. But it is the Government that is putting VAT up by a substantial 2.5 percentage points on 1 January.
And Osborne had the best lines. The Prime Minister wants to get the forecasts wrong on purpose; the Chancellor wants to get them wrong by accident.
And he nailed the Labour "core vote" strategy, which defines as I pointed out yesterday a party that is going down the toilet: