Success without cleft chins and dimples

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The Independent Online
Not so very long ago the key man in Lebanese politics was a bug- eyed, scrub-bearded, wild-haired man called Walid Jumblatt. Despite his physical resemblance to the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, Mr Jumblatt - leader of the Druze militia, based in the high Chouf - was a widely respected figure, exhibiting a lethal combination of subtlety, ruthlessness and an uncanny knack with light artillery. Wily Walid is a lesson to us all that cleft chins and fetching dimples are not necessarily prerequisites for political success.

Likewise Mr Cook should not be written off on account of his looks. For as questions to the Foreign Secretary progressed yesterday (albeit in the absence of Malcolm Rifkind), it was becoming remarkably easy to envisage Cookie and his colleagues in comfortable occupation of the trappings of office. Once ensconced in the high ground of government, it will take the devils' own job to get Cook and Co out.

Three-quarters of the way through what has been an awful week for the Tories, I was turning my full attention to the Labour benches, asking whether they had the qualifications for power: superstar ministers, competent deputies, seething rebels, hangers-on, bovine loyalists and hecklers.

Cook was amusing himself by sliding stilettoes into the Government over beef. Would the minister confirm, he asked gently (apropos of the European beef timetable, which was supposed to see the ban lifted by November) that the next day was indeed the last day of October?

Beside and behind him were all the ingredients required for a spell in government. There was his loyal and busy deputy, Joyce Quin (Gateshead East), whose neatness and size puts one in mind of Mrs Tittlemouse, out of Beatrix Potter; there was the pale, squat, constantly heckling figure of Angela Eagle (Wallasey), who looks like Jodie Foster's bad-tempered older sister; and finally there was the partisan stupidity of Clive Betts (Sheffield Attercliffe), who did a terrific imitation of the worst Tory backbenchers, in following a proper question with an irrelevant, yah-boo supplementary. So he'll probably get a job.

Mr Cook went out, and as he did so passed a few amiable words with one of his greatest adversaries, the Shadow Chancellor Gordon Brown, as he in turn came in. Mr Brown, who was doing the economy bit of the interminable debate about the Queen's Speech, has just had the fillip of an announcement by the Bank of England of a one-quarter per cent increase in interest rates, and looked happy.

Not only did this hike provide him with a stick with which to belabour the Chancellor, but he also believed it to be right, and knew that it will stand him in better stead when he inherits the shop. Indeed, few chancellors will defend a painful rise in base rates with such asperity and command, as - inevitably - will Chancellor Brown.

Mr Brown did not so much speak as thunder, driving a steamroller through the chamber. Britain was ninth out of 15 in this, fifth out of nine in that, 11th out of 18 in the other. And this was the economic miracle we were being asked to applaud! What complacency!

On the other side Mr Clarke, wearing Hush Puppies and what appeared to be a triple-breasted light grey suit, did look a tad complacent. So, although Ken defended himself with wit and elan, there was strong sense in the chamber that Walid and friends are well on their way.