The Sketch: A backroom boy who falls into the most obvious traps

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The Independent Online

I still haven't got used to Gordon Brown giving his condolences to soldiers killed in Afghanistan. He says we owe them a debt of gratitude. It was bad enough when Tony Blair did it; we were able to imagine some struggle going on in the mystery of his prime ministerial mind. But when Gordon talks about our debt to these young men, I find myself thinking he's just overstepped his competence.

The sentiments go over, as tradition says they must in the House. All MPs go still and then the more energetic ones quiver a bit with respect. But they're sitting there in their suits, a long way from those dusty roads that conceal the improvised devices.

Every Wednesday I find my order paper scrawled over with the same notes. Gordon is no good at prime ministerial occasions. He's a backroom boy. He's no good at frontline politics. He falls headlong into the most obvious traps.

He knows the Tories are trying to portray him as a compulsive obsessive, and he shouldn't collaborate so willingly. Cameron wishes him a happy birthday from the despatch box and Gordon keeps chatting casually to his colleagues. Not to be specifically rude, just because he's decided to chat casually while Cameron talks. "Feeble," as Cameron said of his response to some far more important matter.

To questions he hasn't been briefed on he answers saying: "All these matters will be the subject of debate over the next few months." Or, "The worst thing to do would be what the Opposition wants us to do." And, "Under a Labour government we will continue to do well." Oh, and a recurrent phrase, "we were right" (five times).

His difficulty is that he has to stick to the script. It's what you have to do in government, but what about us out here outside (or as they say "outwith") the world of government? Throw us a bone!

Cameron has to lure him out where there is no script. There are still things Brown just doesn't dare admit to. Is there a limit to private involvement in public services? And what, then, is being done to control or encourage the vast flow of public funds this way or that? "I will write to him" wouldn't do as an answer.

One specific question that hasn't been answered: why aren't the directors of Northern Rock in jail? I'm just asking.

Jacqui Smith's statement on "earnt citizenship" made me want to pick up the closest nutcase bible and start preaching for England. Can you sew a nettle vest? Out! What, no jackets made of live foxes! Get back to where you came from! And I'm a reactionary, goodness knows what decent people think of the Home Secretary.