Parliament: The Sketch - Clockwork mouse takes fun out of Tom and Jerry show not the same with

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The Independent Online
I SUSPECT that Mr Redwood may be pining for Mr Mandelson. Rather in the way that Tom would fall into a depression if ever Jerry was put out of combat for any length of time, the shadow Trade and Industry Secretary appears melancholy these days, his whiskers drooping and his coat dull.

He had, I think, come to depend on his regular beat-up sessions with his former counterpart and to enjoy the vigorous work-out they afforded his powers of scorn and sarcasm. He has a substitute, of course, in Stephen Byers but Mr Byers is a clockwork mouse in comparison to Mr Mandelson, upholstered in grey felt and mechanical even in his motions. He lacks that thrilling unpredictability of reaction that used to liven Trade and Industry questions, the Lazarus of Parliamentary sessions. You get the feeling that one good blow might leave him whirring repetitively until the mainspring wound down.

Mr Redwood still goes through the motions, naturally, but the zest and glee seem to have drained from his performance. And it isn't difficult to understand why this should be. When Mr Mandelson was at the dispatch box there was a general sense that we were watching a top-of-the-card bout.

Now, through no fault of his own, Mr Redwood finds himself demoted to the realms of the jobbing fighters and the warm-up bouts. Add that to the rather dull nature of Trade and Industry questions and you have the recipe for a powerful soporific. "I'm wide awake this morning," Betty Boothroyd had warned Dennis Skinner after he had slyly referred to the shadow Secretary as Deadwood. I'm willing to bet she wasn't 50 minutes later.

A couple of moments may have interrupted her slow glide towards sleep. There was a peculiarly gnomic intervention from Peter Brooke on the question of encouragement for small businesses. Would the minister recognise, he said, "that entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs" and that it was more important for the Government not to hinder them than to actively assist them? "Brilliant!" shouted a Labour backbencher, impressed by the Zen opacity of Mr Brooke's utterance. Michael Wills, replying for the Government, took the safest course. "I'm very happy to agree with that," he said simply.

There were also some rather half-hearted jabs at Lord Sainsbury of Turville, with Christopher Chope suggesting that John Battle ask for his old job as science spokesman again and provoking a fine simulation of outrage from the minister in question. And there was an excitable intervention from Julie Kirkbride, who asked Mr Byers to comment on the declining fortunes of Rover under a Labour government. Mr Byers turned his nose up at her precise question, replying that the automobile sector in general had enjoyed an increase in exports. "Rover! Rover!" yelped Ms Kirkbride furiously, like a woman trying to regain control of a wayward dog.

But the only real jolt of the day came during Points of Order, when Roger Gale rose to ask the Speaker about the mysterious disappearance of the Appendices to the Lawrence report. It had been lodged in the House of Commons Library on Wednesday, he said, but now it appeared to have been dislodged, the Home Office having belatedly realised that it might be an excess of candour to publish the names and addresses of police informers in Eltham. When Mr Gale asked his question the exact reasons for its hasty withdrawal were still unclear. Madam Speaker, sounding slightly disorientated to have been wrenched from her reveries, murmured something about "inaccuracies".

As it turned out this was wishful thinking and the Opposition got what, beneath the outward show of anxious concern, it secretly longed for - a gilt-edged government cock-up. Mr Gale had asked whether the Home Secretary would be coming to the House to explain this bizarre oversight. In due course he will have to, and when he does everyone will be wide awake.