Parliament: The Sketch: Opposition leader expends ammunition on single issue

THE PHRASE "within the last few hours" always gives a little frisson to proceedings in the House, not only by its promise of urgency but because it holds out the tantalising possibility that we are going to be told something we don't already know. Mr Hague used it to good effect in his first question to the Prime Minister yesterday, ending a list of attacks in Northern Ireland with the murder of Eamon Collins and so rather grimly injecting fresh blood into his call for a halt to the early release of terrorist prisoners.

I'm sure Mr Hague would gladly have done without the topical footnote but in truth every atrocity since last Wednesday has helped preserve him from accusations of redundant repetition. Because this was the second week in which Mr Hague had selected this topic as the theme of his questions and the second week in which he had devoted all his ammunition to the one issue. Which either means he believes he has found a genuine weak spot in the Government's performance or that there's absolutely nothing else he feels confident about raising. It is, I think, the former but that only amplifies the question of whether this particular weak spot should be in play at all.

For the Labour Party there is something irresponsible about Mr Hague's persistent prodding. They see him as a man trying to find out how far he can press his forefinger into a baby's fontanelle, that soft divot in the skull where the bones have not quite knitted. It's easy to do this and it looks quite dramatic but you have to be careful you don't actually kill the baby. For Labour the Good Friday Agreement is a cherished infant that will not easily survive such treatment. For the Tories, the Prime Minister's refusal to consider halting the release of terrorist prisoners is a fatal indulgence, rather than the protection of a delicate child. They are perfectly entitled to point out that the baby's head is an odd shape, they say, and that pressure must be applied to correct it. Both positions were elaborated last week but yesterday the difference of opinion was a little hotter in manner, the mutual accusations less guarded.

"I don't doubt that the Leader of the Opposition is well-intentioned on this," said Mr Blair "but I do believe he's been dragged along by others who aren't." He jabbed his finger sternly at the ill-disciplined backbench hounds he believed had tugged Mr Hague off-balance.

Mr Blair has one very good argument against the Conservative position and several rather weaker ones. Oddly, he spends more time on the latter than the former. He summed the good argument up in a balanced soundbite: "It may be an imperfect process and an imperfect peace, but it is better than no process and no peace." The weaker arguments are those that incorporate statistics about the year- on-year figures for punishment beatings (which, oddly, seem to suggest that men who have just had their kneecaps reduced to puree might take comfort from being part of a diminishing trend) or those that piously attempt to invoke the principle of bi-partisanship on Northern Ireland issues. This can't help but sound either whiney - the protest of a small boy who has taken his turn in goal and now finds the gesture is not reciprocated - or self- serving, as if every element of government policy on this crucial issue was to be permanently off-limits.

He does far better when he reminds the Opposition that it is he, and not it, who has to make such difficult decisions and how grave an error could be - a brief statement of sole parental care against which Tory rhetoric is far less effective.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Emily McDowell Card that reads:
artCancer survivor Emily McDowell kicks back at the clichés
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvBadalamenti on board for third series
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Standing room only: the terraces at Villa Park in 1935
football
Sport
Ben Stokes celebrates with his team mates after bowling Brendon McCullum
sportEngland vs New Zealand report
News
Amal Clooney has joined the legal team defending 'The Hooden Men'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine