The Sketch: Are the leaders mutating into a single species?

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The Independent Online

The first PMQs of the parliamentary year opened in glorious confusion. It's getting so hard to see where Blair stops and Cameron begins they may be taking the innovative evolutionary step of mutating into a single new species. It's the children I feel sorry for.

Both began by accusing the other with accusations that should rightfully be applied to themselves. I couldn't follow it, actually, not there and then.

"No limit to private involvement in the health service!" the PM cried passionately. But was he attacking Oliver Letwin's proposition, or supporting Patricia Hewitt's policy? It's all going so fast I can't keep up.

Blair said he would resist the Conservative campaign against cuts in the NHS. Admitting, perhaps, that cuts were being made. Unless he was campaigning against a campaign called Campaign Against the Cuts. Because they're not cuts, are they, but a slowdown in the rate of spending increases.

We know that because that's how the Tories described it when they were campaigning in favour of the cuts (not that they called them cuts, it was Blair who used to call them cuts but now calls them increases unless the Tories agree with him in which case they become cuts again).

Right, we're well on the way. Blair also took care to denounce a Tory proposal for the NHS becoming an independent commissioning board, saying nobody on the Government front bench was in favour of such a board. That ignored the fact it is Gordon Brown's big idea for health. It's the basis of his prime ministerial campaign.

So this gave added point to Cameron's friendly question: does the PM still back Brown's bid for leadership? That must have hurt. Nothing is more damaging than friendly messing in the Eton manner. Blair turned his back on the question twice, and Cameron gave an elegant turn to The Independent's original advertising line by asking whether he backed the Chancellor as his successor? "I do, does he?"

Oh, the opposition delight it caused when the PM shied away from the question. Cameron supports Gordon because he is heir to Blair and of the two, neither is now more opposed to Gordon than the other, though both pretend to be in favour of him.

Rattled, perhaps, Blair made errors. In one collectable moment he talked about deporting foreign prisoners but it came out as "deporting foreign secretaries" (what is he thinking?). He also said "inflation is at an historic high" and anyone serious about protecting borders from illegal immigrants had to approve of ID cards (hang on, isn't that why we have passports?).

A clear Cameron win, then; but Cameron can't beat Blair, considering the way things are going, without it being self-defeating.

sketch@simoncarr.co.uk

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