The Sketch: Magnificent scorn proves its function, to haunt you later
The Independent's parliamentary sketch writer and columnist since 2000, Simon Carr was described by Tony Blair as "the most vicious sketch writer working in Britain today". "Poison," said Charles Clarke. In the 1980s he helped launch The Independent, and was a speech writer for the prime minister of New Zealand from 1992 to 1994. His working principle is "Indignation keeps us young."
Thursday 10 February 2005
A functionary who'd appeared in front of the European Scrutiny Committee wrote to say that it was wrong to call him a functionary; he was a Member of the European Parliament. As I'd got the name of the committee chairman wrong (apologies to the double-doughnut that constitutes the mortal form of Jimmy Hood) this was the least of the column's problems.
But perhaps it is wrong, technically, to call MEPs functionaries. Because They don't have any function. They can't originate, amend or reject legislation, nor do they have any control over the activities of the Commission. They've a tenth of the legislative impact of the House of Lords and 10 times their lunch budget. I'd love to be an MEP but the job can only be inherited, I believe, on the death of the parent concerned.
The magnificent scorn Tony Blair had applied to the "fantasy island" (where the Tories are going to process immigration claims) came back to haunt him. Michael Howard read out a letter. The playground noises from Labour died away as he got to the meat of it.
It was a letter from Mr Blair asking a proper Euro-functionary to consider processing immigration claims at some unidentified offshore location. The very Tory policy they'd been deriding as a populist, impractical fantasy they wanted to put into practice!
Why am I surprised? The Prime Minister had said the same thing (of Ann Widdecombe) just before the 2001 election. "... and the shadow home secretary has suggested a lot of nonsense most of which we're doing anyway!"
Does this sound like a win for Mr Howard? Very far from it. I have to tell you that the Prime Minister is at the top of his game. And Gordon Brown beside him was looking strangely calm. We can only assume that this time he's got it in writing.
News? Yes, we did learn that the pounds 11bn black hole is going to be plugged by a rise in national insurance contributions. The Prime Minister declined to deny it and experience tells us that is a confirmation.
Charles Kennedy effortlessly occupied the Tories' position on identity cards. He said Mr Blair had "asserted they are essential for combating terrorism. Yet they didn't prevent the Madrid bombing (where ID cards are compulsory) and the twin towers terrorists travelled under their own names. Also, they won't be compulsory for 10 years!" Mr Blair said he wanted to "conform with best practice round the world". Yes, top of his game.
Alex Salmond mentioned the pounds 80bn fund the Norwegians had built up by saving a fraction of their North Sea oil. What a government that must be. Talk about prudence. And wisdom. Mr Blair rebutted it by saying independence would be the worst thing that could happen to Scotland. I repeat - at the very height of his game.
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