Simon Carr: The Sketch

Dr John Reid and his world of structuralism
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By a happy series of events and circumstances, David Davis has managed to frustrate the Peter Principle by failing (repeatedly failing, in fact) to rise to his level of incompetence.

His great triumph is to remain shadow Home Secretary. Sacked, bounced, dumped, he is the most successful Tory parliamentarian since the Fall.

His darting questions are a great relief from Home Secretary Jimmy Reid's grindingly slow vacuities. The number of pupils carrying knives in school has doubled, David Davis said, and yet there are only six relevant convictions a year. So when would all at-risk schools have the resources to screen for knives?

Jimmy began by scoring a political point: "the public is more interested in solutions than political point scoring," he told us with his particularly nauseating blend of self-righteousness and self-satisfaction before proceeding to an answer irrelevant even by his own high academic standards: the use of knives in homicides has stayed roughly stable over the past seven years, he said. Then he called for cross-party support. By which he means an end to criticism.

A Tory pointed out that you could get a longer sentence for stealing a bicycle than for carrying a knife. "The honourable member would want to be as honest as possible in talking about this," Jimmy began, implying, I suppose that this was an entirely false picture. Then he reiterated the Tory point in his own interminable way.

He clinched his argument by saying that you could, in fact, get life imprisonment for carrying a knife (but that you'd have to kill someone with it first). He will not agree with people with whom he wants to disagree. Anyone with a six-year-old will recognise the trait.

Driven by headlines as he is, Jimmy somehow has to introduce proposals for increasing prison terms for knife crimes, even though he voted against a Conservative amendment for precisely that less than a year ago. No doubt he'll find some way to explain that to himself. He's got a PhD and probably knows enough structuralism to get a text to mean anything the hell he wants it to.

Nick Herbert produced a quote from a report which suggested that the massive (£600m) reorganisation of the police force would be a complete horlicks and would produce a funding gap equivalent to 25,000 police officers. That attracted much contempt.

Jimmy told us he hadn't read the report. "The honourable gentleman has only read the report!" (What a loser!) "I've spoken at length to the people who wrote it!"

That's much better, obviously. We don't read books any more, we listen to the author in an interview on the radio. "The figure of 25,000 was a speculative, in extremis case, denied by the authors of the report!" he declared. Odd, don't you think, the authors of the report would deny their own figures? But then, we've only the Home Secretary's word for it.