The Sketch: Allowing this piffle must be wrong

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The Independent Online

The captain of the first XI idles down to the nets where the Colts bowl to him. He doesn't pad up but knocks them about likeably, with a bit of "Well done, youngster," and, "I say, good ball!"

Tony Blair attends the Liaison Committee in this spirit, and very well he does it. He enjoys the practice, probably, and the Colts must find it good for morale. The rest of us fags watch, after all. It certainly isn't clear what the larger significance is, to this fag at least. It's always difficult to get the Prime Minister to say something you haven't already read in a newspaper. This committee finds it impossible.

In the absence of a special interrogator such as Lord Hutton's Dingemans we get questions like: "What discussion have you had with China over carbon capture and nuclear power?" What could be more useless? Mr Blair took us into his confidence with the news: "China wants to grow sustainably."

And a perfectly good question on the limits of enlargement allowed him to say, to laughter: "There is a mood in Europe that enlargement isn't altogether positive."

And, of the constitutional treaty: "Unless the French position is reversed, it stands." And, "in order for progress to be made you have to get a consensus round change and reform". There must be something wrong with the format to allow this sort of piffle.

The select committee format itself has been adjusted to the new forum. It's chaired by Alan Williams but co-chaired by Tony Wright and John Denham, who take responsibility for different lines of questioning. Whatever the merits of these parliamentary adornments, structural reform like this can't have any noticeable effect on the business of the day (it's like the education reforms in that regard).

The most perfect piffle came in response to Edward Leigh's question about the Muslim demonstrations calling for blasphemers to be butchered (which isn't as we know, a metaphor). The Prime Minister supported the police's right "to study the evidence and come to conclusions". And then, valiantly, "There is no political correctness to prevent them taking whatever action they think is necessary. That is my position 100 per cent!" PM 100 per cent behind the police doing whatever they think right.

Sometimes, then, he's a little wan. More than once he said resignedly, "the reality is...", and that people would or should or would have to "accept the reality that...".

But about legacy matters, he still crackles with energy; he had no defence to Tony Wright's complaint about the body of work the Education Department has concealed from Parliament until after the vote (why? Why do you think?).

So, Mr Blair leapt into attack a completely different question and did so with enormous, final-days gusto. Valerie Violetta's dying words were, as we remember, "I'm feeling better! Jolly good!"