`Federast' alert as Europhiles seen lurking on Continent

The Sketch
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The Independent Online
IN THE Commons Robin Cook made another of those surreptitious advances in the Government's continuing game of Grandmother's Footsteps over ground troops. When Grandmother is looking Mr Cook is as immovable as a statue, holding to the resolute yet prudent posture he adopted on the day the first bomb dropped. No change in Nato conditions ("I am now so familiar with them they are etched in my brain like the Lord's Prayer", said Mr Cook, rather grandiosely) and no question of troops fighting their way into Kosovo. On the other hand, he added yesterday, such a statement should not rule out "putting in troops at a point where there is no organised opposition". But what exactly does "organised opposition" mean and how might matters be affected by Mr Cook's insistence that there's also no question of President Slobodan Milosevic "having a veto" on Nato intentions for Kosovo? Has he moved or hasn't he? Grandmother can't quite be sure - all she knows is that he looks a lot closer every time she turns round.

Understandably, perhaps, Michael Howard, the Tory spokesman on foreign affairs, was still asking for "clarity" from the Foreign Secretary but his backbenchers had decided to take a day off from scepticism about the war and indulge themselves in that most delicious of Tory recreations, Eurobashing. There were several questions about the reform of the European Commission and more than one of them settled on Romano Prodi as a very satisfactory new whipping boy. Julian Lewis was anxious that Eastern European countries that had only recently escaped the heavy grip of the Warsaw Pact would be lured into immediately surrendering their new liberties to another monolithic power bloc - that the Iron Curtain would fall only for the Red Tape Rampart to rise up. John Bercow put it in even bolder terms. Why couldn't the Government admit what is openly acknowledged in Europe, he demanded, before going on to out Mr Prodi as a "committed federast". Mr Prodi, it seems, has been sidling up to naive young democracies, offering them sweets and computer games if they will just go round to his place and let him remove their sovereignties.

In the Lords, hereditary peers opened the first day of three days of debate on the House of Lords Bill with an eleventh-hour conversion to the popular will. Only last week their noble Lordships demonstrated the true value of the hereditary principle by endorsing the incredible notion that the sexual desires of 16-year-olds are in some way susceptible to parliamentary legislation. Yesterday they confirmed their detachment from anything recognisable as the real world with a communal fantasy that their abolition was causing waves of unrest among the common folk. "The people don't want it," said Lord Strathclyde, and his wishful theme was taken up by Lord Campbell of Alloway, supporting an amendment that would call for a referendum on the Government's proposals.

"The people don't want to put to sea in a sieve with any old owl or pussycat," argued Lord Campbell - in one of the more lucid passages from a frankly baffling speech - and he concluded that the Government would press through its legislation against "the wishes of the people". But what people could he conceivably be talking about? Was he, perhaps, using the phrase as a public schoolboy of the Thirties might say "my people", to refer to his immediate family? Or did he have in mind the staff and beaters at his country house? Anybody, surely, but the people talked to by Mori not so long ago, 80 per cent of whom indicated their satisfaction at the imminent demise of the hereditary principle. It really is time to wake up and smell the Earl Grey, your Lordships.