Sketching out a pointless day of bickering

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OK: so I was fed up. Defeat at the hands of that wunderbar volk, the Germans, a postal strike and a tube stoppage provided reason enough to feel fairly savage. Two hours in the House nevertheless contrived to make me feel even worse. The fatuity - the monotonous pointlessness - of so much that is said and done in the Chamber of the House of Commons at the moment was exemplified by two events that are theoretically immensely important in ensuring the accountability of the Government to Parliament.

The first was Treasury questions. Yesterday Kenneth Clarke was not there - he is in Lyons. So Mr Brown was not there - he was in Scotland. It would clearly be infra dig for him to have to face a junior minister.

What I witnessed was 45 minutes of repetitive, charmless and utterly unenlightening point scoring. This - from James Pawsey (Rugby) - could stand for virtually every single question asked from the Tory benches: "Would the minister [William Waldegrave] agree with me that a low inflation rate and low interest rates are a prerequisite for a successful economy, that ours in this country are very low; but would he care to say what would happen if the policies of the parties opposite were implemented?" When repeated a dozen times over, such Pawseyism completely subverts the value of question time.

Shamefully, however, ministers connive in this subversion. When - by accident - a proper question was actually asked, the ministers dedicated themselves wholeheartedly to the business of not answering it. Andrew Smith, the shadow Chief Secretary, asked a question about a mistake in the estimate for the Government's borrowing requirement. Mr Waldegrave did not refer once to the subject of the question, contenting himself with an attack on the Labour government of 1976-79. So often, in fact, did he and his trio of ministerial sidekicks repeat this mantra that it became literally maddening - a form of political white noise. I challenge Mr Waldegrave to write to the paper and tell readers what benefit accrued to the country from his activities between 2.30pm and 3.15pm yesterday.

At Prime Minister's Question Time there was no Prime Minister. He, too, was in Lyons. So there was no Blair; he was in his office. Unfortunately, Mr Prescott was mourning Mr Papandreou in Athens. And regrettably, the opposition Leader of the House, Ann Taylor, was in Dewsbury "on constituency business". Which left the admirable Jeff Rooker - not even a member of the shadow cabinet - to face Hezza.

The result was entirely predictable. In his Brummie soprano Mr Rooker asked a long question about the privatisation of defence housing and Mr Heseltine answered. During Mr Rooker's follow-up the following exchange took place between a Conservative and a Labourite. "Get on with it!" shouted the Tory. "Shut up you!" the Labour man yelled back. Hear, bloody hear.

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