The Sketch: All greased-up and ready to praise the Chancellor

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The Independent Online

It was the first really sincere suck-up session we've seen. The greasing season is officially open, and no one out-greased Ashok Kumar: his question began: "May I congratulate the Chancellor on the great job he's been doing?" (Cries of "Answer!")

One after another, MPs stood up to offer himself or herself (it was usually herself) to the new lord. "His teeth are white, his hair waves in the wind, his breath is sweeter than roses," they said, in their various ways. Saddam Hussein would envy his share of the popular vote.

But let us not forget how heroically the Prime Minister is behaving. His authority dwindles daily, yet he stays. He hoovers up all the anger and contempt. By the time the handover is complete, he will have sucked in all the negativity in politics. I dread to think of his lungs.

All this will allow the Chancellor to rise as uncontaminated and innocent as Aphrodite. And the flurry of action that he generates will be all the more striking for these months of stagnation, delay and confusion. What a double act they continue to be.

Brown exerts himself to look more normal than he ever was. He has taken another lesson from Mrs Thatcher by lowering his voice and speaking more slowly. And, a little clumsily perhaps, he now even chortles as well as chuckles. There was a moment when he "roared with laughter", as people are said to do. He is even answering questions on the economy. We haven't seen that since his moral compass swung to Africa.

Is it going to work? All this trust-restoring activity? He says he is inspired by Gandhi in one breath, and that he's going to use the army to enforce his will in another. Is this the simple-minded integrity for which we yearn?

Elsewhere: "Sketch writers don't count, they don't deal in information," Jack Straw said. He can be cruel. The Sketch deals only in information. Just last week we revealed that he himself is King of the Lizard People. And I volunteer information without legislative compulsion.

Why have I never said anything rude about Dawn Primarolo, people ask, quite angrily. One, she has a flawless complexion, and two, she is the minister in charge of the Inland Revenue.

Jack Straw was agreeing with John Spellar's proposition that The Independent should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act and reveal our air-travel budget. Spellar's sense of scale is defective. Ministers spend more on air travel in a week than I make, ooh, in a month, probably.