The Sketch: A lesson from the man with a trolley full of principles
But his mournful dignity when addressing the House conjures an almost classical sense of melancholy. He surveys the Labour benches like an ancient Roman contemplating the depredations of lead plumbing and high living. Sometimes he rages against the dereliction of the old ideal, but more often he admonishes his colleagues with a sorrowing and indefatigable gravity.
Yesterday provided the perfect arena for his skills in this mode, as he proposed a Bill designed to oblige the Government to seek endorsement from Parliament before embarking on any open-ended venture of international discipline.
Mr Dalyell wants to record a protest, and it's difficult to think of any human agency that could deflect him when he is so minded. "The first quality is not to mind being a bore," he has said about his weevil ability to tunnel into the dense hardwood of ministerial prevarication. Quite often, there is a muted groan when he stands to speak but there was nothing boring about his performance yesterday, which converted a distracted, desultory atmosphere in the House into one still with attention.
He first took the high ground of seniority, pointing out that those with first-hand experience of war and bombing might take a different view of it than those "inoculated against weapons of mass destruction by watching Indiana Jones".
And then he urged the Prime Minister to look to his theology books again. Mr Blair had "set out his stall as a Christian Socialist" he noted. Honest Tone might have all the big names but his Aquinas and Augustine didn't smell quite right to Mr Dalyell.
Most effectively, he presented this as a matter of parliamentary privilege rather than policy disagreement, the kind of approach, it seems, that can subdue all party enmities. Even Mrs Thatcher, he said, had sought the endorsement of Parliament before dispatching the task force to the Falklands. She might have sunk the Belgrano but she asked permission first. Here too, "the pros and cons should have been hammered out on the anvil of parliamentary opinion".
You could tell from the uncontested "Aye" that sounded after his speech that his had been a clean, well-aimed stroke.
A less distinguished demonstration of parliamentary rhetoric had been given earlier by James Clappison, who put a Private Notice Question about the release of sex offenders under curfew notices. Paul Boateng briskly cut down the kite he was flying by making clear that not one pervert would emerge from prison tomorrow. At this point Mr Clappison should have expressed his contentment and sat down, but a lot of work had gone into his supplementary question and he was loath to abandon it merely because it had been answered.
Mr Boateng, who usually bobs and nods like a novelty dog, became a freeze- frame of bemusement. Mr Clappison noticed his uncharacteristic paralysis and was unwisely encouraged by it.
"The minister's looking perplexed!" he said cockily, just before asking him to tell the House whether any sex offenders would be among those curfewed. Mr Boateng finally twitched into life to explain that he was only trying to work out why he had to give the same answer twice. "No!" He continued. "None! Not one! Not any! - I do hope the Honourable Gentleman has heard me."
"Thank you," gasped Madam Speaker, as though she had been surprised by this unequivocal full stop.
- 1 Man on naked bike ride gets ejected after becoming aroused
- 4 Ann Summers survey reveals the UK's favourite sex position
- 5 Ayyan Ali: Pakistan's top model now appears in the courtroom rather than on the catwalk
Man on naked bike ride gets ejected after becoming aroused
Caitlyn Jenner's mother Ester thought her daughter, formerly known as Bruce Jenner, had transitioned for money
Charles Kennedy 1959-2015: A gifted, compassionate politician whose career was cut short by the 'demon drink' - latest news
Charles Kennedy dead: A guy once asked the Lib Dem leader who his favourite Muppet was and his letter response was wonderful
Jaden Smith wears gender fluid dress to high school prom with Hunger Games actress
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Why this year's general election was the most unfair in Britain's history
£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...
£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...
£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are a world leadin...