Simon Carr: Ken vs Mandy – a fight the Commons needs

The Sketch: If only the two big beasts disagreed about anything
Click to follow
The Independent Online

How grand Lord Mandelson has become, how stately of manner. He left Britain as a highly strung viper and has come back in a carriage, trailing behind him the incense of the ancien regime.

How royally long he takes to say things! On the radio yesterday, he'd begin with, "Let me say this first", before answering a question he hadn't been asked. It was impossible to deflect him.

I'm sorry to sound petty but it was very unEnglish. What an effect they had, those few short years as an EU commissioner. What a powerful institution it must be.

In the Lords, you hardly notice this; his ermine-edged statement on the foreign worker strikes was soothing, even a little dull. If only we could have him back in the Commons, his department would become one of the engines of government.

Because there he has Ken Clarke opposite him and what a combination they'd make. The Tory bulk of Ken up at the despatch box lifts all hearts. What a well-hung game beast he is. Seventeen stone by the look of him, shirt buttons straining; vast, complicated face like two Cabbage Patch dolls carelessly sewn together. His eyes search out the members opposite because he only occasionally has to refer to his notes. And that's what we miss in politics – the ability of our masters to reach out of themselves and "engage the enemy more closely".

Mandelson vs Clarke would be a great thing for politics. If only they disagreed about anything. It was as well they had the PM to fall back on. The proposition Brown had lifted from the BNP website – "British jobs for British workers" – gave all pro-EU opposition something to get their teeth into.

"Populist nonsense from his curious Britishness campaign," Ken said, just getting into his stride. Oh yes, this was going to be a belter – but then he sat down. He's not as young as he looks, and we're grateful for anything we can get of Ken.

Of course, the PM hadn't quite said that about British jobs and workers, but imagine how disappointed he'd have been if we'd taken it the way he says he wanted us to take it.

The minister substituting for Lord M has a face and a name but I defy anyone to remember either. Rather a nice fellow, in fact. Decent, cautious, jawless. One of those machine politicians – like Ed Balls – who are so much a product of their function that you can't tell where the man stops and the machine starts. So unlike Ken – or Frank Field, or Austin Mitchell or Bill Cash or David Heathcote-Amory, or Kate Hoey, or David Heath – or indeed most of the MPs who spoke to the statement.

Great sight, watching British workers doing British jobs.