Simon Carr: The Sketch

Des Browne is part of Blair's plan (he wants us sick of Scots)
Click to follow

He and Adam Ingram would make up a Tweedledum and Tweedledee if they weren't both Tweedledum. They issue almost exactly the same verbal material in reply to questions. For instance, which one of them would have said: "We are addressing these issues across a range of solutions"? Doesn't it make you want to throw ethnic vegetables at them (do they have vegetables in Scotland?). Or try this: "I do not, standing here, know the detailed timeline of that expenditure"? Who else, in God's sweet creation, speaks like that?

"I have confidence in our Nato allies." Why would you, as Minister of Defence say such a thing, obvious to the point of meaninglessness? This is the discourse of a man who is paid by the word.

A young Tory noted our helicopters were ancient. Would ministers consent to be driven round Whitehall in 30 year old Cortinas? "I won't cheapen the question," said a Tweedledum. Oh yes you will!

But important questions were asked of the minister yesterday:

* The PM has suggested to the press there is an exit strategy - could he give us an indication of what that strategy might be?

* The poppy crop in Afghanistan is going to be at a record high. Why wouldn't we divert the opium into the legal production of diamorphine, of which there is a worldwide shortage, and keep the farmers out of the grip of the Taliban?

* Should Iraq be partitioned, "to prevent an anarchistic hell-hole"?

Necessary questions, all of them. Des gave such piffling answers you'd be better off quizzing your haggis. It's a sign of the times.

Liam Fox asked a brilliant question: We are in Afghanistan for the purposes of counter-insurgency not counter-terrorism. It's a theological difference, you may think but the Government were very insistent on it (one path leads to a Vietnam-style endless war, and the other gets our boys home after they've had enough exercise). So, crucial question, in the light of 200 recent rebel dead: "Are the Taliban terrorists or insurgents?"

"I don't think it particularly appropriate to categorise a group of people in one way or another," the minister said. It just isn't good enough.

I remember Des when he was immigration minister and thought he was a bit over-promoted then. But there's something decent about him, I don't know what. So it's difficult to dislike him. Especially as he owes his job to the Prime Minister's cunning plan (to get us sick of being governed by Scotsmen).