When politics comes to push and shove bid for

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The Independent Online
There is not normally a big turnout for Environment questions. Why should there be? Normally all you get is Labour whingeing about bicycles, and Tory point-scoring about how the worst-performing councils are all run by Blair-people (as, of course, are the best, and the ones in the middle).

But barely had the doors opened to admit the hoi polloi, than MPs found themselves competing for scarce space all across the green baize. The average bench in the House sits 15 comfortably, 17 with a squeeze, and 18 in severe discomfort. But that discomfort is not shared equally. Those at the end of the row suffer disproportionately, as those close to Labour veteran, Peter Shore discovered yesterday.

Mr Shore, like the regular customer of a down-at-heel neighbourhood trattoria, has a space which Luigi or Marco magically manages to reserve for him, even should a coach party turn up unexpectedly. But yesterday, Mr Shore's favourite aisle spot being occupied, he made use of the simple expedient of sitting on the lap of the man who was sitting in it - David Winnick. Mr Winnick quickly realised that two elderly male members sharing the same seat was neither dignified, nor likely to reinforce the family values message, as delivered in South Africa by his leader. So he shoved the man next to him, indicating that if everyone were to move up equally, then all could have a seat (albeit a small one).

So his neighbour (Peter Hardy, I think) pushed the man to his right, and one of Mr Winnick's buttocks (try not to say this too quickly) found a mooring in between Mr Shore and Mr Hardy. But, like a rear-shunting car accident, the further away they were from Mr Winnick, the less the movement from his colleagues. By the time it reached Greville Janner, sitting in the centre of the row, all momentum had been lost.

While Mr Winnick scrunched himself into a space hardly more than six inches across - his ungrounded buttock pushed up under his shoulder - Mr Janner stretched his legs wide apart, and snuggled into the upholstery. A better paradigm for the difficulties of legislating for New Labour morality could hardly be imagined.

They were all there to witness the showdown between the two leaders, whose contrasting backgrounds and styles are thought by the Conservatives to favour them in some bizarre way. The Tory side is led by Blokey Major (or Man In Pub), the boring but friendly guy who engages you in optimistic conversation about sport (he once scored a half-century), the weather (usually good in his neck of the woods), the success of his electric pelmet business, the University of Life (which he attended), and who would buy you a drink if he had only managed to get to a cash dispenser in time. You what? Oh, how kind, mine's a G&T. Thirsty work, this Prime-Ministering.

Facing him is the well-born Bishop of Sedgefield, who bleeds for the neglected children and mourns for the loss of communal values and ties. Tambourine in his hand, Jesus in his heart, he comes not to heal, but with a sword. Two mineral waters, but he is buying.

And what actually happened? The Bishop agonised over ancient parishioners cast on to hospital trolleys, while Blokey told a long shaggy dog story about how much he'd spent on hospitals and dentists. All the while Mr Winnick sat and winced; eloquent testimony to how even enlightened communities can fail to look after the most disadvantaged.