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The Week

Lords Browne and Hutton should really go out for supper - or at least a pint - at the end of this week. Rarely have two government-commissioned reports garnered such a collection of excitable headlines by mischievous journalists. But then rarely have two such emotive subjects been debated in parallel: Hutton with his predictable analysis of the future of public sector pensions, and Browne with his recommendations for a beefed-up university tuition fees system.

The media paints a wonderfully simple picture that goes a bit like this. You want to be a teacher, do you? For the golden oldies it was easy. The state paid your fees through uni and probably bunged in a grant to boot. Then a nice staff job would appear at a decent local school. Some 38 years later you would retire aged 60 with a lovely final salary pension scheme and head off for a spot of fishing. But then, say the critics, this nasty pair of peers step in, complete with bovver boots. So you want to be a teacher in the 21st century, do you? Uni's going to cost you a fortune. There's no guaranteed classroom job at the other end so you're probably going to have to start with some horrid supply work. Oh, and when you retire - probably aged 75 - your pension will resemble a bag of dust. Do either of these accounts bear the slightest resemblance to reality? Thought not.

While this over-simplified scrap rumbled on, there was only one real question that sensible people were asking: just how low could Vince Cable's glasses go? In the Commons on Tuesday, defending his U-turn on tuition fees, the bridge of Vince's half-moons teetered in gravity-defying fashion on the very end of his nose, giving the impression they could slip at any point - especially if those nasty Tory bruisers started pushing him around. They'd probably stamp on them, too.

And all the while, public sector employees sit, crouched like Chilean miners waiting patiently and hoping that next week's comprehensive spending review will bring a ray of light and an escape route from their current misery to the sweet, clean air of continued employment.

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