The Sketch: The strange language of the hyperventilating Labour loyalist

Parliament
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The Independent Online
GENUINE FEELING is not rare in the House of Commons but it is unusual for the emotional contours of a session actually to match the map drawn up by what MPs say about their feelings. Yesterday, for example, Christine Butler opened Education and Employment questions by telling her colleagues she was "really excited by the prospect of a one-stop shop on the website".

Now it may be that the nights are unusually quiet in Castle Point - Ms Butler's constituency. It may be that there is nothing she likes better than to download explicit pictures of people learning how to weld. But it seemed more likely that this was just another bit of reflex parliamentary exaggeration.

Similarly, when Barry Gardiner (Lab, Brent North) asked the Schools minister, Estelle Morris, whether "she was as delighted as I am to hear that schools in Brent are transferring from the private sector to local authority control" it was hard to believe that "delight" had accurately measured the altitude of his happiness. Surely this matter lies amongst the modest foothills of pleasure, not its snow-capped peaks? Ms Morris responded in perfectly collegiate manner but didn't take up the invitation to throw streamers. She is, it has to be said, one of those in whom the discrepancy between expression and inner feeling is admirably narrow. True, she got a bit hoity-toity with Phil Willis, (LD, Harrogate and Knaresborough) after a sceptical question about the real size of government increases in education spending, but even there it sounded less like knee-jerk Lib-Dem bashing than a spark of real indignation.

It is a sacking offence for a Labour minister to answer a question without referring scornfully to 18 years of Conservative rule, but at least Ms Morris mitigates the tedium of this obligation by acknowledging those moments when her opponents are telling the truth. Indeed, she used the phrase "he is absolutely right" while replying to James Clappison (C, Hertsmere) after he had attacked her on rising class sizes amongst secondary pupils. I have a horrible feeling that this may be a sacking offence too, in which case I hope nobody snitches on Ms Morris because her unhysterical candour is refreshing.

Her businesslike manner also makes a striking contrast with her boss David Blunkett - who is prone to writhe in elaborate mimes of astonishment while his junior ministers are on their feet. When Mr Clappison announced that classes of more than 40 were now "common" Mr Blunkett gasped loudly as his hands formed the international gesture for "Honestly - what can you do with these people?" It is a kind of silent shouting and he got even more strident after Theresa May (C, Maidenhead) complained about the Government's failure properly to fund higher education. It's true that this is a bit like Herod protesting that vetting procedures for childminders are inadequate, but Mr Blunkett milked it shamelessly. He collapsed half sideways, head buried deep in his hands, and uttered a strange gargling sob to indicate the scale of his incredulity.

But the whole House was united in heartfelt sentiment by a question from Vincent Cable (LD, Twickenham) relating to age discrimination. He told the House about the shocking case of a 59-year-old former boxing champion who had been turned down for a job as a postman. There were angry cries of "shame!" from both sides of the House, this being an issue that touches most MPs very directly. None of them knows when they themselves might be seeking alternative employment, and they feel a kind of anticipatory outrage at the thought that their sagacity and experience might be ignored.

Fortunately the electors are less demanding than the Post Office, so most MPs are safe for a while yet.

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