Simon Carr: The Sketch

Bottom-drawer talent on Labour front bench
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The Independent Online

Don't look at me, I barely know Mike Gapes' name, rank or serial number and he's the new chair of the Foreign Affairs committee. What happened to that estimable fowl Donald Anderson? What's Mike Gapes got that his colleagues lack? Webbing between his toes?

Sion Simon's amphibious feet have propelled him to the parliamentary private secretaries' bench. He was a man of independent spirit once, but he turned out to be a toad. I mean that in the most positive way. A long tongue is an evolutionary advantage in politics.

A few years ago he was quoting Rimbaud - or Verlaine, in fact - in Rimbaud's Trou du Cul sonnet. We had a show-off's conversation about it below the Gallery. I began the flaunting with: "Obscur et froncé comme un oiellet violet," and blow me down (if that's the right way of putting it) he completed the couplet: "il respire humblement tapis parmis la mousse."

Nor did he stop there but went all the way down (and it's further than you think) to "jusqu'au son ourlet".

Not many young, rising politicians can quote tightly-observed, French decadent descriptions of anal puckering, so I had to hand it to him. Hang on, I'm doing it again.

But then he suddenly started making absurdly partisan interventions in quite serious debates and now he's the next best thing to a parliamentary private secretary. He may become a junior minister (if John Robertson, his neighbour, doesn't eat him first).

What a find we have in Ian Pearson! How long's he been there? If you thought Chris Mullin was irreplaceable, mourn no more. Poor Pearson is so out of place he sounds as though he might burst into tears at any moment.

The situation in Khartoum, is apparently "stable", yet "fragile" while at the same time "calming has been strengthened".

What is he doing on the front bench, for goodness sake? Who appointed him as Minister of Genocide? If Africa weren't so far away people might get indignant about having such a person in charge of it.

Perhaps the appointment was an ingenious revenge of the Prime Minister's, to punish Jack Straw for talking so ostentatiously to Gordon Brown during Question Time.

If you wanted someone inconspicuous in the job, what's wrong with Kelvin Hopkins? Or someone with a big face, what about Hugh Bayley? Or someone with a distinctive manner, why not Lindsay Hoyle? Why Poppy Pearson?

Chris Bryant - I know he gets some people's backs up; not like that! I mean it like it sounds you thought I meant! Shut up - you're making it worse! I'm trying to be nice! - is a parliamentarian head and shoulders and much of his majestic torso above people like Liam Byrne and Pearson and others on the front bench too insignificant to have names at all.

The mystery of parliamentary politics continues to fascinate us.