Parliament & politics: The Sketch: Memo to my successor: you're welcome to the job

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The Independent Online
UNTIL YESTERDAY, the last time I heard my successor as Member of Parliament for Cleethorpes speak was on the night of my defeat and her election, when she proposed, and I seconded, the vote of thanks to the returning officer.

There were two productions in the Commons on which new Blair babe, Shona McIsaac (Lab, Cleethorpes), wanted to speak, and on both occasions I realised how lucky I was to be dumped by the voters of Cleethorpes.

First, Ms McIsaac, Scottish, 38, red-haired, wearing orange jacket, black skirt and stockings, had to participate in the planted-question farce during Treasury questions.

She had question number six. "If the Chancellor will make a statement on the representations he has received on his plans to reform employees' national insurance contributions." Surprise, surprise, every single word of this question was exactly the same as those of question number two, in the name of another Blair babe, Joan Ryan (Lab, Enfield North). Obviously the Labour whips cannot remember when they have already planted a question with one woman member, and give out the identical question to another - all their women MPs must look the same.

The Chancellor said: "With permission, Madam Speaker, I will answer questions two and six together." We could have saved a bit of time if Ms McIsaac and Ms Ryan had stood up together and read out in unison, like Pinky and Perky: "Madam Speaker, we would like to sing our identically worded planted questions together."

Then followed the statement by the President of the Board of Trade, Margaret Beckett, on future fuel policy. It was long and complicated and took Mrs Beckett nearly 15 minutes to deliver. Boiled down, I think it meant that while the coal industry will be given no subsidy, it will have a fairer and more level playing field at the expense of gas-fired power stations.

The minute Mrs Beckett rose, as a privileged member of the Press Gallery, I was given a copy of her statement and so knew what was coming. I could even put my pen down and concentrate on her excellent dress sense (silver two-piece trouser suit, long silky white scarf), attractive hairstyle and confident speaking manner, as she batted on her usual territory of sticky wickets.

I know it is not fashionable to say, but I am a fully paid-up fan of Mrs Beckett, who deftly keeps the left wing of the Labour party under control. Tony Benn (Lab, Chesterfield), Dennis Skinner (Lab, Bolsover) and other old Labour mining members did not give her a particularly hard time. Only Mr Skinner suggested, ever so gently, the ultimate option of the renationalisation of coal - quickly rejected by Mrs Beckett.

Further support came from an unlikely quarter in the shape of Nicholas Winterton (Con, Macclesfield), who used the opportunity to be nice to Mrs Beckett in order to have a go at his old arch-enemy, Michael Heseltine. He usefully reminded Labour MPs that Mr Heseltine had done more than anyone else to scupper the coal industry.

John Redwood, the shadow industry spokesman, berated Mrs Beckett with a series of metaphors. "We were promised an elephant of a policy. We have been given a mouse ... minister playing across the line of the spin from Number Ten ... batsman caught out."

Poor Shona McIsaac, unlike me, did not have an advance copy of the statement and had to listen, furiously taking notes. Mrs Beckett was ending the future development of the gas-powered stations and was stuffing her constituency.

Ms McIsaac spent a wasted hour jumping up and down trying, unsuccessfully, to catch Madam Speaker's eye. I felt very sorry for her as Betty closed the show down.

I realised what a dog's life it is being the new member for Cleethorpes. I'll stick to the Press Gallery, Shona. No more trouble from me!