Parliament: The Sketch: If air power wins wars, why is the airport unimportant?

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The Independent Online
THE VICTORIOUS forces had arrived with good morale and they didn't look too interested in any notions of magnanimity towards the defeated. After a period of great trial and anxiety, the Tories had finally pushed back the hated Europhiles.

True, the liberation of great tracts of England had been greeted with indifference by the people: there had been no reports of bouquets being thrown, or members of Euro-For, the Sterling Protection Force, being kissed by grateful little girls. But if you're a Conservative these days you take what you can get in the way of triumphs.

Labour, for its part, had to settle for the part of the Serbian forces - retreating with defiant arrogance, while uttering veiled threats about the future. "I quite understand the excitement being felt by Conservative members," said that notorious Labour irregular, Jack "Citizen's Arrest" Straw, before adding darkly: "They should savour their day."

Curiously, the general Labour insouciance didn't seem forced. When Gwyneth Dunwoody confessed that she had been tempted to score through several of the names on the party-list voting slip, Mr Straw explained that had she done so she wouldn't have spoilt her paper.

"Now you tell me!" she shouted, and everybody, including the Labour front bench, fell about in a genial, shared hilarity.

The mood was more solemn for Robin Cook's statement on Kosovo, largely taken up with dodging questions about the exact nature of the Russian contribution to the peace-keeping force. To be fair to Mr Cook, there were limits to how much candour he could permit himself.

After Nicholas Soames invited him to agree that the Russian behaviour had been "reprehensible", he looked longingly at the adjective, like a dog having a lamb chop dangled before its nose, but nobly stayed where he had been told to, guarding the proposition that the Russian presence was a source of joy to Nato commanders.

His attitude suggested that the military textbooks would need a further correction - the addendum on the effectiveness of air power alone being joined by a footnote about the strategic triviality of airports. In the past these have been thought of as crucial installations, the first target of invading forces, but apparently that was quite wrong.

The Russian blockade of Pristina airport offered "no practical impediment to the work of K-For", he said. Just a useless patch of open ground, you see, only good for learner drivers to practise their clutch control.

Mr Cook's time at the dispatch box was followed by a tender demonstration that politics can matter less than family, Tony Benn patiently waiting to walk his son, Hilary, down the aisle to take his place as an MP. It has been many, many weeks since Mr Benn has looked this happy, beaming proudly as he advanced in ragged-line abreast to stand in front of the mace.

Had there been no family connection it might have been different. After all here was yet another recruit to the army of pager- operated new bugs and yet another reminder of the offensive antiquity of the constitution. (Mr Benn complained recently about being obliged to lie to take up his rightful place in Parliament.) But paternity pushed ideology aside.

As he sat in his habitual place and listened to Mr Benn Jnr pledge his oath of fealty to Her Majesty, it all became too much for him. The wry grin with which he greeted the sovereign's name tightened until it became difficult to tell whether Mr Benn was smiling or crying. Then that famous chin, so often jutted in mockery or defiance, wobbled briefly and gave the game away.

His heart had filled, then overflowed, and it was a sight that made more than one of the calloused and smoke-cured cynics in the press gallery murmur: "Aahh! Swee-eeet!"