The Sketch: Redwood's back to see Prescott completely off the rails as

"BYE BYE, bye bye," shouted Labour backbenchers as Gillian Shephard rose to speak during environment questions. The tone was one of reflective derision, but there wasn't much sting since Mrs Shephard has known she was going for months and acknowledged that she was on "borrowed time" with an attractive levity of spirit.

With sunlight pouring through the high windows of the chamber it was a day on which almost anybody would have longed to be out of office and Mrs Shephard had good reason to feel demob happy. She spent some time congratulating John Prescott on his observance of parliamentary protocol and courtesies and ended by wishing him "interesting encounters" with her successor.

He didn't have very long to wait since John Redwood was in the chamber already, preparing to respond to Mr Prescott's statement on the future of London Underground. Some might think this a rather daunting task - being obliged, after what could only have been a few hours' preparation, to pick holes in the Government's case. But Mr Redwood has an approach to his job that proved perfectly adaptable to the circumstances. When in doubt load the Gatling gun with insults and lock your finger on the trigger. It hardly matters if most of the shots go wide - the sheer noise and rate of fire should make the enemy wary of sticking their heads up too high.

Mr Redwood was reported to be slightly miffed at his shadow cabinet transfer - but there must be a part of him that relishes the prospect of a new sparring partner, particularly one as high profile as Mr Prescott. Since the departure of Peter Mandelson from the Department of Trade and Industry he had been visibly pining, like a zoo panda deprived of its favourite soft toy. His coat lost its lustre and his eyes their characteristic manic sparkle. But now he has an object worth batting around the cage a bit.

I don't know whether Mr Prescott felt edgy at having to face a new antagonist but his trademark gabble seemed to have accelerated even further. At times he went so fast that I began to wonder whether there were representatives of The Guinness Book of Records in the public gallery.

Currently, I believe, the records for speed-speaking are held by tobacco auctioneers in the southern United States, professionals who clearly have an advantage over Mr Prescott - it being easier to negotiate the rising price of a bale of Virginia prime leaf than to make your way over the hurdles of a statement about public/private partnerships for the Underground. But I wouldn't bet against the challenger. Mr Prescott can cover pages at an amazing rate, largely because he strips out all hindering factors - such as punctuation, word endings and comprehensibility - as he goes.

Maybe he simply wanted to skim as rapidly as he could over the details of his announcement in the hope that Mr Redwood would not be able to keep up --because despite the confidence of Mr Prescott's unveiling there seemed to be nothing behind the red velvet curtains but another set of curtains. Private companies, he announced, would be "invited" to take responsibility for upgrading the infrastructure and London Transport would be allowed to "explore with Railtrack a way of linking the national rail network to the sub-surface lines".

He didn't say what would happen if private companies turned down the opportunity to pour money into a hole in the ground, or if those explorations got lost in the jungle.

Mr Redwood wasn't quite up to speed enough to point out that Mr Prescott was behaving as if the train was already in the station, while the information board revealed that it was only "expected soon". It won't be long before he catches up though, however fast Mr Prescott talks.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Highs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
News
news
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam