The Sketch: Ron the non-confessor speaks a lot but says nothing

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The Independent Online
THE LAST time Ron Davies spoke in the Commons it was on the Bill establishing a Welsh Assembly, including a contentious Government amendment requiring the Welsh Executive to sign the Official Secrets Act. Mr Davies commended this amendment to the House and there have been several times in the past few days when his tight-lipped manner suggested that he had promulgated a private extension of this legislation to cover his own misadventures on Clapham Common.

Before he rose to speak, Gordon Brown had been stressing the need for "transparency" in international markets, using the word again and again as though glass houses were a byword for sturdy indestructibility. Tories crowed at his pious invocation of this virtue, but everyone present was hoping Mr Davies would bear it in mind when he came to deliver his personal statement. In the end, they may have been moved by what he had to say, but they were not enlightened. Mr Davies decided not to abandon the commitment to opacity which has brought him so far.

On any other day, Gordon Brown's statement on G7 plans to prevent global financial meltdown would have been top of the bill in the House, but yesterday he was just a warm-up man, preparing the audience for a moment of genuine drama. Quite an effective warm-up man, given the chafing anxiety of Opposition MPs to throw some stones at the Government's economic policy, but undeniably upstaged when Mr Davies finally entered the chamber to sit, on the very back row, between a tightly packed rack of sympathetic colleagues. There was open space elsewhere on the Government benches but this was a moment when Mr Davies needed to feel solid pressure at both shoulders.

He joked with his colleagues, with that skittish and brittle hilarity that is the mark of the truly apprehensive; he signalled for a glass of water, sipped at it, licked his lips and sipped again. He clasped his hands together tightly, a man visibly getting a grip on himself.

And then he said almost nothing. He apologised again, and thanked again and blamed again. It was the media that had mugged him, his words suggested, "asserting as fact a stream of rubbish". But he did nothing to damn up the torrent of rumour, saying that he would make "no further comment" on matters now in the hands of the police. If there was a revelation here it came in code: "We are what we are", he said enigmatically at one point, adjusting the title of a famous gay anthem "I am what I am" as if resetting it for male-voice choir.

The only thing he was really candid about, though, was his own suffering. Nobody, I imagine, would question his description of the past week as "unremittingly agonising". Mr Davies's task over the past few days has been that of slowly accommodating the magnitude of his disaster, rather as an anaconda swallows a goat, dislocating its jaws until the apparently impossible is finally achieved. The crucial difference being, of course, that the snake wants to eat the goat, whereas Mr Davies has been brutally force-fed by circumstances.

The first haunch will have gone down quite quickly as he stood there, phoneless, in Brixton last Monday night. How could he have been so reckless?

The moment must have slammed shut with that bleak temporal clang that sounds for most of us when we break a cherished possession - the past suddenly locked out of reach, inaccessible to "if only..." and "why did I?".

But even in his distress he probably did not think that he would have to swallow his career whole.

The next day he had to gape a little wider, taking in the loss of his cabinet position, and a few days later wider still, as the possibility that he would never be First Minister in Wales was slowly choked down. In its defiant, angry reticence yesterday's statement suggested that he has not yet completed his grim meal, let alone started on its long digestion.