The Sketch: A script for Question Time will do nothing for character development

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The Independent Online

No, I can't stop, I've got to get to Waterloo, to catch the 4.58 to Windsor.

No, I can't stop, I've got to get to Waterloo, to catch the 4.58 to Windsor.

I'm having tea with the Queen, oddly enough. I have to be in Windsor by 5.20. It's not entirely clear why but something to do with the constitutional position of the Sketch. Hoggart's been invited too, from The Guardian, I don't know why. None of the other sketchwriters, of course. Well, why would they be? Oi! Excuse me, do you mind eavesdropping, I wasn't talking to you actually, how long have you been there? I was merely thinking out loud. About a certain matter. Rather private, as it happens. Nothing to do with you. MYOB.

Yesterday in the House. The Sketch arrived for the Budget debate on Whatever It Was. It wasn't. They've finished with Budget debates. The arcane, not to say medieval, procedures of the world's oldest legislature defeated this young, forward-looking, modernising Sketch.

But there were Business Questions, as there always are on Thursday afternoons. Since the election, this has featured the Goblin of the House, Robin Cook, standing up to conduct a mini-version of Prime Minister's Questions. After he has announced the schedule of parliamentary business for the following week, he fields questions on any number of subjects from all parts of the House. It's a therapy session, with few tangible results. Much like Freudian therapy; indeed, much like everything else that happens in the House of Commons.

Because he has no responsibility for anything in particular, the Goblin of the House can always say: "I'll refer that to my right honourable friend, the Secretary of State for Health." This form of reply was first used in Prime Minister's Questions, the centuries-old tradition that started in 1961. Harold Macmillan, as it would have been, might have been questioned on declining survival rates among cancer patients and he'd say: "Not my pigeon, I fear. More the Minister of Health's. Would you like me to get him to call you?" Modern answers aren't noticeably more informative, despite appearances to the contrary.

Eric Forth asked whether it was true the Goblin had spoken to The Sun (it's a newspaper) and told them that the Prime Minister was incapable of protecting himself during Question Time and that all questions were to be scripted in future.

The Goblin explained that two paragraphs of evidence he'd given to the Procedure Committee had been conflated. He had merely said that while the public admired the theatre of question time, it was important to convey that serious business was conducted at the same time. From which we assume that a bristling latex replica is placed in Robin Cook's seat every Wednesday.

Should the Prime Minister be given notice of questions? Would that increase the sterility or fertility of the occasion? The dice are loaded so heavily in favour of the office holders that anything that would help them is to be discouraged. The only pleasures of PMQs are when a flash of personality is struck from our masters, and we are able to glimpse a glance of a human reality behind the filthy, twisted, statistical deceptions, the fretful wonking, the political frottage, the bal masque of icons and idiots that is parliamentary life.

Clare Short stood up to talk about international development, poverty, inequality and the greatest moral question we face today. The House emptied.

Six Tory backbenchers, nine Government backbenchers and three reporters. No, two, the Sketch had slipped away to hurry to Windsor in order to ... it almost slipped out.

Simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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