Simon Carr: Timely gaffe provides welcome distraction from tuition fees vote

Sketch: However, ministers who abstain won't get a hospital – they'll find their jobs given to their PPS
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The Independent Online

And there's the hat trick! Jim Naughtie just before 8am, Andrew Marr just after 9am and Nick Herbert halfway through Home Office questions. He told the House in his loud, assertive voice, "There are no such cuts!" But he didn't say "cuts". It was a Freudian slit. Slip.

He's the Police minister and had been confused by constables, perhaps. The countryside had been a problem too. But the cuts had been cunning, and it was a canny stunt to count the constables so that the cuts in the countryside were countered by a conduit for contrary cuts. There's a sentence they need to say quickly before standing up to answer Ed Balls.

Everyone was delighted. The Speaker told the House that "their ears had deceived them" which was a well-mannered way of putting it.

Maybe they're putting something into the air conditioning. It would explain Lynne Featherstone's voice (she must have her own supply of helium). There's certainly an odd atmosphere. What with the blonde researcher said to be a Russian honeytrap and her coney called Mike Hancock. It's too much. And I really did write a bit for Frankie Howerd.

You can't help remembering that deliquescent woman of experience Pamella Bordes who starred in her own Commons scandal. She too was a researcher – improbably, in the House of Commons library. She had lips out of infamy and a smile as rich as biblical sin. A Tory MP told a friend of mine her price list and the á la carte. The sum of £500 was mentioned for an act now considered quite ordinary.

People's minds aren't really on it. There are those in Labour who've persuaded themselves that they will win the tuition fees vote on Thursday. But the rebellious spirit doesn't always go all the way to the ends of the journey.

At the last great tuition fees vote, one of the very last rebels capitulated at the last moment. "What did you get out of it," I asked him in a slightly knowing, sneery way. He said: "A hospital."

That's principled compared with what the Libs are up to. Many seem to be trapped in a revolving door outside the voting lobbies. Kevin Brennan asked in a point of order whether Liberal MPs could actively abstain by voting both for and against the motion, and whether this would be useful to them as a party. The Speaker answered: "Yes!" However, ministers who abstain won't get a hospital – they'll find their jobs given to their PPS. It takes more than courage to face that.