Bronzed polymath always gets a laugh

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Indy Politics
If a gang of sketch-writers were to sit and down and design an MP expressly to serve their satirical purposes, they would come up with something very like Michael Fabricant, the member for Mid-Staffordshire. Guileless and transparently calculating, his inner works (which he imagines to be well-hidden) are as visible as the wiring in a clear plastic watch. Vanity - of an entirely human kind - contends with Anxiety for mastery of Mr Fabricant - and usually triumphs, to good comic effect. He rarely plays for laughs and often gets them.

He is intellectually prodigal; no subject being a no-go area for the man from Lichfield. Not only does he have an opinion about almost everything, but manages to claim expertise as well. Any country or continent, any tribe or nationality, and Mr Fabricant has been there on holiday, met them on a delegation, or once sold them something on behalf of one of his myriad (pre-parliamentary) business interests. From Wales to Alpha Centauri, the only inevitable common experience is that Fabricant saw, came and conquered.

But even a man as generous in his reminiscences and as catholic in his interests as Mr F is, must specialise. So, when he is not advancing the case for an English-speaking free trade area (involving the successful free market Anglophonic nations, but leaving out the historically doomed Germans and backward French), he bangs his taut drum for engineering. Which was what I discovered him doing yesterday in a Chamber full of intellectual vigour and enterprise, but devoid of MPs other than Mr Fabricant himself.

His chosen subject was "Year of Engineering Success", and indeed Mr Fabricant's appearance is itself a monument to scientific and technical achievement. His hair - a thatch of cartoon gold - is neither wholly his own, nor entirely imported. It is a weave - a fabricant if you like - of such amazing complexity that a pink parting can be espied, which cannot possibly belong to Mr Fabricant. Did it begin life on the head of a Nepalese mountain-man, or the back of a Staffordshire White?

Something interesting has also happened to our hero's skin. There are many pink MPs, and even a few brown ones (mostly Tories who have just returned from Barbuda), but Mr Fabricant is the only orange-skinned member of the House. Nor is this just one of those facial tanning creams gone funny; when his trousers ride up his shapely legs, orange shins are revealed. Is this the consequence of another one of those dangerous experiments involving an MP and an orange?

So Mr Fabricant knows about science at the cutting edge. The Institute of Electrical Engineers ("of which I am a member") was sponsoring the Year of Engineering Success. This Year was necessary because the legacy of Isambard Kingdom Brunel ("who, in my opinion, put the Great in Britain") was being dissipated by the low esteem in which the profession was held. Despite successes such as the Scottish engineer, who had invented cash machines using friction rather than vacuums ("which will not be pleasing for those of my colleagues whose wives use their cash cards"), we were a nation of engineering illiterates.

Part of this was down to over-specialisation in the education system. This should be rectified so that we could "say goodbye to the schoolboy specialist and say hello to the schoolboy polymath!" One other (admittedly radical) option that I would suggest to Mr Fabricant, might be to make engineering more attractive to 50 per cent of the population by cutting out the casual sexism, and admitting the possibility that schoolgirls too might be engineers. Or MPs.

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