The Sketch: A stinging rebuttal Brown was not pre-prepared for

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The Independent Online

"Pre-prepared", he kept saying. It sounded like a stutter but it was a solecism (he meant "prepared"). The PM said the leader of the Opposition "pre-prepares" remarks for use in the Commons. So when he used a pre-prepared remark himself it was very satisfying to see it come back at him so fast it took his ears off (along with the smile from his face).

He congratulated Vince Cable on his tenure as stand-in Liberal Democrat leader and observed that he might well be back in a few weeks, given the history of that unfortunate party. Cable stood up with remarkable composure to say: "Given his own position, he might not be wise to speculate about leadership elections." It's not easy to come up with something measured, weighted and accurate in that forum, and he deserved the delight he caused. The cheers, the laughter, the waving of order papers, the sheer, physical pleasure radiating from the person of David Miliband. Jack Straw took it very well, too, I thought.

But Vince was only half-done. I wasn't the only one to wince. Forty women had been executed in Iraq for "personal immorality", he said. The Labour jeering continued a little but faded away as the words sank in. Is that why so many of our troops had died, he went on, to transfer power from a fascist Saddam "to the terror of a fascist militia who run the streets of Basra".

The PM replied: "Iraq is now a democracy." That sounded as relevant as the next fact. "I went to Basra only two days ago." And as for his conclusion (Iraqis will be taking control of their own security) that's exactly what Vince Cable was pointing out himself. A fascist democracy is not a contradiction in terms.

Cable's pessimism resonated through the PM's statement on Afghanistan; I kept thinking that modern government in this country can't make nurses wash their hands in hospitals, but they still nurture plans to "kick-start the development of a regulatory framework" in one of the least governable countries in the world. The PM's 450m stabilisation assistance is going to "isolate and eliminate" the Taliban's leadership.

Oh yes, and "Iran must start to play a more constructive role." I don't think that needs commentary. And as for "our obligations to the Afghan people", words fail me altogether.

Cameron asked whether the new anti-corruption czar in Afghanistan had indeed got a US conviction for a $2m heroin scam. It was nice to have one moment, at least, of light relief among the carnage.

PS: Cameron's PMQs focused on jeering and abuse, something he does well. But it's not discomforting the PM as it has done. I recommend: "Where are the surpluses?" That bears a great deal of repetition. If it rhymed with anything they could make a song of it.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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