The Sketch: A lot of double-speak and plain rubbish. To be fair

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The Independent Online

"Let's be honest with each other in this debate," that ass Barry Sheerman said yesterday, "admissions have to be fair." He stressed with great saloon-bar emphasis the word "fair". For what it was worth, he might as well have said, "admissions have to be purple." You don't have to be a philosopher to see the use of the word "fair" isn't fair. It's more a sign of advanced mental decay. To be fair.

I think it's fair people should buy a school place; you think it's fair people should get a priest's chit for a school place; they think it's fair to buy a house near a good school for a school place. What's fair?

Anyway, the funding gap between the best and the worst schools is 135 per cent. Is that fair? Gordon Prentice asked: "Do we need many more single-sex Muslim schools?" Was that fair?

Few others came out of the debate with much credit. David Willetts has the manner of an intelligent insect that has crawled, burping, out of a box file of briefing papers. Too harsh? Exasperation with Tories makes one unkind. The high point of his speech came when he quoted the Prime Minister: "We are at our best when we are boldest." A heckle cut him off at the perfect point: "Baldest!"

There was a moment when he started to get into the good stuff, comparing the Prime Minister's stated aims with Margaret Thatcher's ("independent, non-fee paying state schools": they're identical). That was the seam that needed to be worked. Ken Clarke worked it with a particularly annoying blend of ease and good humour. What a long way round the Government's come - they could just have equalised the payments to bog-comps and the Tory-created grant- maintained schools.

Ruth Kelly? The minister smiled at me on the way in. Me! Does she know who I am! God only knows where that smile has been these last months. And what's going to make it all better, according to Ruth? External partners will help drive up standards; schools collaborating with universities, businesses or better schools (we call it "spreading the blame").

They've made great play of the admissions code. It's tougher, it's mandatory, it does who-knows-what? Actually nobody does know what because there isn't a code of admissions. It's been withdrawn. The minister confirmed that. The code is out for consultation and won't be ready until the Bill has been passed. Why are you laughing? Don't you trust them?

Simon Hughes asked Ms Kelly whether the £2m donation to set up a city academy gave the donor the right to buy a majority on the board of governors. Ruth told him he had completely misunderstood the Bill. That is, "Yes, it does." What else would donors get for their £2m? They might as well buy a peerage; two peerages, in fact (discount for bulk).