Don't blame me if I get it wrong - I'm a victim of my own success

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The Independent Online

Today's column is a round-up of and apologies for recent indiscretions, inaccuracies, and misplaced identities.

Today's column is a round-up of and apologies for recent indiscretions, inaccuracies, and misplaced identities.

While never having mistaken the Speaker for a speaker, the sketch has since the summer recess mistaken Hibernian for Caledonian, Lord Annan for Lord Arran, Andrew Rowe for Michael Spicer and Michael Fabricant for Marion Roe (it's the hair).

Two weeks ago it was worse. The sketch saddled Jeff Rooker (from social welfare) with a set of opinions inspired by, rather than reported from, a minister called Alan Johnson (from trade and industry). The sketch is happy to make clear that it was not Mr Rooker who denounced the shipbuilding industry's workers for being idle, sullen malcontents who were uniquely to blame for the fact that we do not build ships in England any more. To be fair (this will not become a habit) Alan Johnson didn't exactly do that either. But let that pass.

People who know Mr Rooker describe him as "a lovely fellow". We have to say that this loveliness is not immediately obvious from the gallery. "Ah, but he doesn't suffer fools gladly," his friends explain. So what the blazes is he doing in politics, you might ask? But let that pass as well.

There is no excuse for the error. Apart from the fact that Mr Rooker and Mr Johnson both wear the same suits, sit in the same place, have the same angry presence in the House, and Mr Johnson had his back to me and I'd had five bottles of wine for lunch... On reflection, it hardly seems my fault at all. And if six months in Parliament has any lessons, it's that politics means never having to say you're sorry.

So, on the understanding that the sketch was wholly in the wrong, here are a variety of apologies Mr Rooker may choose between.

I'll take no lessons from this here-today-gone-tomorrow Mr Rooker, as he likes to call himself, who thinks he can ring up and demand that honestly made, sincerely held views be arbitrarily retracted; it simply beggars belief and displays an ignorance of his own party's dismal record, let alone the Freedom of Information Act, which will certainly be remembered by the sketch writers at the time of the next general election.

It's a little disappointing that the right honourable gentleman, instead of carping and whingeing, can't find it within himself to congratulate the many hard-working sketch writers who have contributed so much to the Government's skills-enhancement programme of lifelong learning by attending and thereby boosting the sketch-writing take-up statistics to levels we haven't seen for 18 years of consigning sketches to the scrap heap.

Let me be absolutely clear, so that there can be no misunderstanding. Safety is the absolute priority of this sketch. There is nothing more important.

And when Mr Rooker says there is a conflict between safety and entertainment it shows he misunderstands the structural incentives we've put in place - precisely to square this circle with better regulations, not more regulations. For it's not actually possible to be entertaining without being safe. He'd do well to remember that. I think he'll find the sketch writers certainly do.

Sketch writers have become victims of their own success - we have witnessed a very substantial increase in sketch production but the proportion of inaccuracies has fallen drastically while the quantity of jibes, slurs, jeers, sneers and other by-products of political commentary has risen to unprecedented levels in relative as well as in absolute terms.

Note: The next bulk corrections to be announced will deal with matters of rudeness and unfairness, and the column will be dedicated to Melanie Johnson.

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