Donald Macintyre's Sketch: ‘Two Brains’ Willetts makes most of a fitting eulogy


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Indy Politics

It’s probably the nearest a politician gets to a pleasure denied to most of us, that of attending his own funeral.

David “Two Brains” Willetts attended his first Business, Innovation and Skills questions on Thursday as a backbencher since he was removed by David Cameron from the job as universities minister – for no very good reason other than to keep alive the hopes of promotion among restive lobby fodder.

He was thus able to hear the gushing tripartisan tributes of his former (Lib Dem) boss Vince Cable, “superb colleague”; his (Tory) successor Greg Clark, “respected… across all institutions of higher education”; and (Labour) backbencher Barry Sheerman, “[who] should have been in the Cabinet”. To judge by his smiles he enjoyed it. As you would.

This was a cheerier moment in a Commons sitting over which a kind of anomie had descended. It’s bad enough that these September sessions were only re-invented to persuade the public after the expenses scandal that MPs worked jolly hard. But yesterday this was compounded by a sense of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, while potentially catastrophic events unfolded to the north.

The other, more sombre, highlight was the latest chapter in Labour’s Dennis Skinner’s efforts to secure just £70m in state aid to save the last three deep coal mines in Britain. All Cable could tangibly offer was “a loan to make the closure of the pits a lot less brutal than it otherwise would be”.

With Pride – the feel-good film commemorating gay activists’ support for the great miners’ strike against pit closures – out on Friday, it was a bleak reminder of what has since happened to the country’s once mighty coal industry .

“Is it not stupid,” asked Skinner, 21 years a miner, “to be getting rid of 3,000 mining jobs in the three pits while at the same time importing more coal from Russia when there are supposed to be sanctions?” Not a bad point.