MPs' reshuffle fever masks the stench of death

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The Independent Online
London was hot and wet yesterday: the kind of sultry weather when dead things rot quickly. And, as became all too clear in the House, this administration is beyond saving.

Try what medical intervention they might, every bandage has come unravelled, every suture unstitched, every wound infected. Most of those walking around the precincts of the House are only waiting for the electorate to make the official pronunciation of death.

But not all Tory MPs yet realise that their government has booked its trip on Charon's ferry. It was the penultimate day of the parliamentary year, and, energised by the prospect of a reshuffle, some of them were still working overtime to ingratiate themselves with the whips. Like the furthest extremities of a vast dead beast they continue to twitch, unaware that the heart has ceased to beat.

These deluded souls, who lay their tributes pointlessly at the feet of cracked and crumbling idols, single themselves out by the ritual inclusion of the inane phrase "New Labour, New Danger" in their contributions. Yesterday began with questions to ministers at the Department of Social Security, who spend more taxpayers' dosh than any other group of ministers.

Pretty important stuff, you might think. Not for John Marshall (Hendon South): "Is this not another new danger from new Labour?" Not for Bob Dunn (Dartford): "New Labour, new danger"; not for Jacqui Lait (Hastings and Rye);not for Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne), not even for girthy minister Oliver Heald. All of them grown politicians, but all reduced to the parroting of a preposterous Central Office slogan every time they opened their mouths.

And for what? Nigel Waterson on the road to the Foreign Secretaryship? Gimme a break. Jacqui Lait to the whips' office? Er, yes, actually, that one happened. But if anybody had ever thought that John Marshall was any use at all, they have had 17 years to give him the recognition that he deserves. And for 17 years they have resisted the temptation. Should the whips, who sit on the end of the front bench - taking notes of the "new Labour, new danger" count in the House - have ever suggested to John that he was "under consideration", then they lied.

But soon it won't matter any way. At Prime Minister's Question Time, John Major told the House that the electorate "will choose low taxes in the 1997 election". He is most certainly right; Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party stands no chance - all the others would rather bathe in a tub of razor blades than put up taxes.

That election cannot come too soon for MPs. As they disperse to spend more time with their families, most of them know that the next session of Parliament will be dreadful - a seven-month wake for a much disliked relative, complete with corpse. Already Mr Major - kebabbed yesterday by Mr Blair, who took a toothy soundbite out of the PM's tenderest parts - looks and sounds defeated. In front of him, he could see Labour MPs preening themselves in their mental mirrors, elated by what terrific ministers they are going to make. Worse, behind him, his own supporters are running sweeps on the succession: Portillo, Redwood, Howard, Forsyth (if he keeps his seat), Dorrell, perhaps even the Governor of Hong Kong?

If they can't decide, they could always introduce this tiebreak: Which candidate has most uttered the phrase: "New Labour, new danger?" It makes you want to weep.