The Sketch: Sensation as MPs start saying what they really think

OVER THE past few days progress on the Northern Ireland Bill has been presented to us as the best cliffhanger in town. Surely our hero would struggle to safety, or something like it, seconds before the final title flashed on screen?

Well, no, unfortunately he slipped and it was Mo Mowlam's job yesterday to manage the audience's sense of anti-climax.

First of all, she said, he might not have fallen all the way to the bottom - a review would now be conducted to see whether some slender sapling, jutting out from the rock face, had arrested his fall. Secondly it was absolutely crucial not to boo the villain, whoever we deemed that to be and however enraged we were by his dastardly deeds. "The last thing the people of Northern Ireland need now is an outbreak of recrimination" she said. Andrew Mackay, for the Conservatives, didn't agree. He not only wanted her to break out the recrimination right away, he also wanted her to deliver it. Could she confirm that the real stumbling block was "non-decommissioning" and could she "lay the blame fairly and squarely on the paramilitaries, loyalist and republican".

Ms Mowlam declined. "I condemn none of them", trying to light a little candle of sectarian tolerance. It was a feeble source of illumination, as members on both sides failed this test of self-restraint. Typically, questions would begin with high-minded ceremonial, the delivery of a garland for Mo or a wreath for the long-suffering people of Northern Ireland, then slipping inexorably towards reproach, with the Toriesblaming Sinn Fein and Labour backbenchers casting unforgiving looks - and equally hard words - at the three Unionists in the chamber.

Mr Lembit Opik, for the Lib Dems, decided to split the difference, leaving the Irish parties out of it altogether and blaming the Conservative frontbench. "Some politicians on the mainland" he said, turning towards them"forget that we are here in the interests of the province, not of ourselves."

It was clear that the peace process was stalled and the two communities - Labour and Conservative - were at each other's throats again. Ms Mowlam was trying to hold the line, but even she became testy, snapping at the Reverend Martin Smyth after he had accused her of spinning.

"Don't believe in it, won't do it" she said briskly, before breaking her own reproach embargo and fingering all the Irish parties for the same crime. Easy to preach goodwill and understanding, much harder to practice it, particularly under persistent low-level heckling.

At one point, as Tory backbenchers sniped away about prisoner releases, she uttered an unearthly gurgling moan at the dispatch box, as if the build-up of exasperation had finally exceeded some pre-set safety level and blown a release valve. Just in time, frankly, since William Thompson (Raving Loonionist Party) stood up shortly afterwards to demonstrate the impermeable self-righteousness of some of those she has had to deal with. He, alone in the chamber it seemed, was happy to dance on the grave of the Good Friday Agreement. It was simply nonsense, he declared, and "will never work".

"Neanderthal man!" shouted a Labour MP over the hubbub of contempt * the sound of disappointment at last finding a satisfactory perch on which to rest. Later in the afternoon John Redwood told Mr Prescott that he felt sorry for him, during an Opposition debate on transport policy.

I felt sorry for Mr Prescott too, since he was in good form, marshalling his statistics with combative assurance. One might almost have used the word "articulate". Why sorry then? Because there was scarcely a journalist in the House to see it and nobody will believe me when I tell them.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner / Caretaker / Storeman

£15500 - £17680 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A position has become available...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Sales - SaaS B2B

£60000 - £120000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This conference call startup i...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital and print design a...

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms