Simon Carr: The Sketch

Dull debut boy has little to say: a big improvement on his predecessor
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It was the Tory party leader's debut. Or maybe his second debut, or possibly third. Let's not get bogged down in arithmetic, this was an historic occasion.

The Speaker called out the triple names. The new leader stood up to a great cheer from his party. His hands subtly shook. In the microsecond before he began, a government lout yelled: "Who's he?" Dunkers was able to stifle the chuckles. He had the manner. He had the mood of the House. There's a war on, of course, that helps. But he's steady under fire. Good man. Carry on. He carried on. It'll make a cute, if rather old fashioned film, some day: Carry On Conservatives.

What was he like? Let's take a deep breath and declare that he was a bit dull, uncontroversial and had nothing much to say. In all, he was a significant improvement on his predecessor.

At the moment he is famous for being unknown. But that may change. He has potential. To do what? Time will tell. Let's be patient. First things first. His assets (voice, wife) have yet to be exploited. There is probably, "almost certainly", more to him than meets the eye.

His first three questions showed us him shoulder to shoulder with the Prime Minister. An odd position, but it embarrasses the Labour backbench into muting their appeals for a halt to the bombing.

The winner, as always, is Tony Blair. The Toniban's authority over all aspects of British political life is more or less total.

Actually, it's so complete that no one laughed when Mr Blair said: "We're doing everything that can humanly be done. And we will do more."

How inspiring. The vision. The dream. When the first dream fails, dare to dream a larger one, with a longer time line to achieve it. Blairism at its best.

Hang on. We've drifted away from the Tory leader and his first set of questions. They went like this: Would the Prime Minister agree that having started the bombing he must carry it through to the end? And wasn't it also correct to say that the aid is being held up by the Taliban? And will he also confirm that he is consulting widely to establish a broad-based government after the Taliban is defeated?

Mr Blair did nothing but agree.

It fell to Roy Beggs to point out that the peace process in Northern Ireland had fallen apart owing to the failure of sectarian power- sharing. We can't manage this sort of thing in our own dominion, let alone in the wild, alien landscapes of the Hindu Kush.

In the same vein, Joan Ruddock's contribution was to require more women in Afghanistan's new government. What? Having failed to pull off that trick in Westminster, how likely is it they'll manage all-women shortlists in Kabul?

We've drifted away from Mr Duncan Smith. His second group of questions. Quite powerful questions, actually. Why do a quarter of all doctors want to leave the NHS? Why do nine out of 10 think the new plan won't work? And what about his constituent who had lain on a trolley for nine hours, died, been ignored for three days, and when the family turned up the body had been lost?

It's the start of the debate. But until the Tories have something sensible to propose (God alone knows when that'll be) it's also the end of it.

Endnote: Tony Blair gave us a new portmanteau word: shituation. As in: The war on terror is a shituation; we're in it so deep we'll be lucky ever to get out alive.