The Sketch: Begging leave, the humble addresses that lack humility

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The Independent Online

People think sketch writers have it easy but we have to turn up every day, you know. Except Fridays, obviously. And public holidays. And school holidays, I suppose. But on four days of many weeks of the year we're in and slogging away by 11.30 - some of us still there well after lunch. Like pit ponies, we are. Ministers only have to come in once a month.

No wonder nothing gets done. And, at the risk of shocking you, the Prime Minister only has to come in once a week. You're white with rage and I don't blame you: this week he didn't turn up at all. It's procedural. One of Parliament's many bewildering technicalities.

Because it's the week after the Gracious Speech we don't get PMQs, we get Humble Addresses. The House "begs leave" to offer "humble thanks" to the "Most Gracious Sovereign" for Tuesday's "Gracious Speech". It couldn't be simpler, compared with, I don't know, the process for impeaching the Prime Minister (see below).

Geoff Hoon presented his Humble Address with less humility than you would have liked. The world is getting increasingly dangerous - the dangers are "immediate", "dangerous", "diverse" with "terrorists" committing "appalling atrocities" "barbarically". Mr Hoon's solution is to cut four battalions, six ships and 7,000 airforcemen from the armed forces. It's a cunning plan, all right.

En passant, it's the same sort of paradox in the Home Office. David Blunkett boasts that crime is the lowest it's been for a generation, asylum numbers are insignificant, therefore he wants an increase in police powers, identity cards, suspension of jury trial and the power to suspend any Act of Parliament he wants.

Mr Hoon went on to say that "overstretch" was to be managed by "compatible battlegroups". Mind you, he said that flattening Fallujah was ushering in a stable democracy in Iraq and 87 per cent of Iraqis were going to vote. Yes, and then form a government. Which will authorise the security services to arrest and torture terrorists.

And dissidents. And pornographers. And flat-tax proponents and sketch writers and anyone else who needs arresting.

The Campaign to Impeach the Prime Minister got off to a rocky start when it changed venue twice and excluded celebrities from the celebrity launch (billed as a photo-opportunity for Harold Pinter).

It's a cross-party group with 23 non-Labour MPs signed up. A committee is to investigate the Prime Minister's conduct. And how is the committee to be appointed? By the usual process. A system that has served us well.

I can't help remembering that the privileges committee exonerated Geoffrey Robinson from the charge of concealing a £200,000 payment from Robert Maxwell (though they had a photocopy of the relevant invoice stamped PAID). "It is possible to become impartial," the Tory Roger Gale said. Yes, as easily as camels canter through the eyes of needles.