Simon Carr: The Sketch

Culture team produces some fine 'ministerial drivel'
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The Independent Online

It was Culture questions. A vintage performance. The ministerial drivel will be laid down in the cellars with their very finest. Why is Tessa Jowell still on the front bench after all these years? One of her admirers explained it: it's the result of a career "being unnecessarily nice to people".

Luckily, Jack Straw came in at the end and as he might be the next Deputy Prime Minister he provides the chance for a Prescott-type joke (make them while you can, time's running out). The DPM was charged with indecent exposure; he was acquitted on grounds of insufficient evidence.

I wish there were more.

A few years ago, Mr Straw found an invisible way of belittling my eminent colleagues at an Independent breakfast: "Now," he began, introducing the question of parliamentary reform, "I want to hear what Simon thinks about this." Brilliant. I produced a good reply which was widely ignored. Suppressing the urge to call for Nude Answers, Trial By Combat, and Ask Le Petomane, I suggested this: departmental question time should, like PMQs, have a quarter of an hour of free questions. It doesn't have the brio of nude, petomanic combat, you say? It might give a little zip to question time if the matter of the moment could be discussed without three months' prior notice. For instance, we had the Electoral Commission fellow yesterday, just at the time when the story had broken of an electoral fraud during the council elections. No mention was made of it. It didn't fit with the questions prepared earlier. What a waste of time it was. It would have been wasted anyway? You're too cynical. You have to believe in the power of change.

Because there is little value that comes out of the current format. You may think the phrase "ministerial drivel" is ostentatious cynicism - it is in fact a laboriously literal description of what falls from the front bench faces.

The Culture team may have been nudged from their supremacy by the current MoD, but yesterday they put in answers so unremarkable they weren't even vacuous. "Maximising the Olympic legacy" for instance, actually means something, if you wanted to find out what. So does "the regenerative effect of the Latin-American museum in Colchester". Sean Woodward's assertion was too broadly comic for this context: he said he wouldn't allow "any kind of politics to interfere" with the BBC's operational practice. That didn't mean anything and was obviously untrue. Richard Caborn produced one for the anthology. In reply to a hostile question he began: "He states as a matter of fact the premise on which he bases his assertion."

Thank you Eric Illsley for pointing out that under section 19 of the recent Licensing Act it is illegal for a license-holder to take a holiday without closing down their premises. He was ignored. Oh, I know the feeling.