My exaggeration is greater than yours

Click to follow
The Government had committed itself to increasing funding on the NHS - yelled Mr Decibel, the Secretary of State for Health - "yerr on yerr on yerr on yerr on yerr!". Last time it was only yerr on yerr on yerr on yerr. He adds one more "yerr" each time.

Decibel's opposite number, Chris Smith, was not to be outdone. He spoke of the problems facing "patient after patient, hospital after hospital". If this escalation continues there will be parliamentary time only for one health question ("patient, after patient, hospital after hospital, ward after ward, nurse after nurse" etc) and one answer ("yerr on yerr, on yerr, on yerr, on yerr" ad infinitum). Or will one of them flinch, and walk off huffily, saying that they won't play this silly game anymore because, somewhere along the line, they've grown up? I doubt it.

Meanwhile Labour's collection of serious health women were looking concerned. They began the session gathered together, giving support to the two sisters (Tessa Jowell and Anne Coffey) who sit on the front bench. But their sorority was put in danger with the arrival of male colleague, Tam Dalyell. Mr Dalyell, alone of MPs, is allowed to supplement the upholstery of the Commons, and trails a tatty green cushion behind him for that purpose. This cushion he deploys as a retrospective reservation card, plonking it down where fellow MPs are already sitting - an early warning that his bottom is about to follow. (Once upon a time, a colleague tells me, Tam used to have a rubber ring, but I presume that its regular inflation and deflation reminded him too painfully of when Labour was in power.) The women watched as the dreaded cushion came closer, hovered ominously above an anxious Bridget Prentice - and moved on. Phew!

Now safe from the predatory pillow, one of Labour's leading ladies, Ms Jowell - in uniform of bob and box-jacket - asked something earnest about cancer patients having to wait for operations. This led the junior minister, the Hon Tom Sackville, to go ballistic with ear-splitting Dorrellian violence. How dare the honourable lady resort to cheap political point- scoring? (Expensive point-scoring - such as buying all the poster sites in Britain - is quite acceptable.)

Cue Prime Minister's questions. John Whittingdale, the intelligent and cuddly young right-wing soft toy - who sits (comfortably) for Colchester South and Maldon - was concerned that a Scottish parliament would lead to insurrection by English nationalists in his peaceful part of Essex. Scythes were being sharpened and hedge-trimmers prepared. Mr Major agreed, sombrely. He too fears the spectacle of kilts being burned on the streets of Saffron Walden. With their Caledonian owners still in them.

The other main whipped question came from the exquisitely chiselled lips of Alan Duncan (Con, Rutland and Melton). Would the Prime Minister make it clear that - unlike the shadow Foreign Secretary (Robin Cook ) - he was "not at home with the European social model".

The idea of being at home with any model was clearly repugnant to the dapper Duncan, let alone a European social one (doubtless named something like Heidi or Etta), whose curves would be likely to grace the pages of Der Spiegel or the Svenske Titteblad.

Mr Major reassured a relieved House that he most certainly would not be at home with a European social model. The social and fragrant Norma was quite satisfactory in every important way, thank you; so such promiscuous French-type thoughts could be left to the benches opposite.

Along the bench Mr Decibel nodded vigorously. "Herr, herr!" he bellowed, "herr, herr, herr!"