The Sketch: Being rude is just crude, Howard, you silly blockhead

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The Independent Online

He called the Prime Minister a worm. I don't think that was very helpful. "Wriggling like a worm on a hook!" the Leader of the Opposition said.

There's no excuse for rudeness. It reflects very badly on a fellow, don't you find? Vulgar abuse? I always say it's a sign of a small vocabulary. It's just stupid.

Yes, what a dolt Michael Howard turned out to be. What a blockhead! Brain like a prune stone! Go! For God's sake! You clot in the cream of the Conservative Party! You silly clot! (Is it working for you? The abuse? I don't feel the traction myself.)

I fear he's had it, in the House of Commons. When he told the House that the EU constitution was dead, a Labour backbencher filled the dramatic pause with a crisp: "You're dead!" No one disagreed. A backbencher called something or other, bald fellow, vaguely familiar in a funny way, let's call him Mr Thing, made a better attack on the Prime Minister than his formidable leader.

Mr Howard is the fourth leader that the Prime Minister has seen off in eight years. He's had the most data to analyse but has learnt the least. The more unpopular you are, the harder it is to make everyone hate whom you hate.

You have to be clever about it, not stupid. You don't lead the abuse because people don't want to agree with you. In this case, you'd praise the Prime Minister for coming round so thoroughly to Margaret Thatcher's point of view. You'd point out other Thatcherite solutions he has adopted. You'd deal with your own recent difficulties with her in a charming and self-deprecating way.

You'd support the Labour front bench with genuine, if false, admiration. You'd rehearse and relish the terms "ludicrous" and "deluded" that the Foreign Secretary has used of French and German leaders (what's there not to like, for Tories?). You'd support him in his fight for the rebate knowing - surely - that he will fail in his defence.

Parliamentary abuse just helps the Prime Minister be unhelpful. He answers any charges with spurious counter-charges. "You Tories want to withdraw from Europe altogether!"

And then he quotes some pro-European remarks made by Mrs Thatcher a generation ago. "It shows how far the party opposite has come!" Mr Blair concluded. It shows how far he has come himself: he was arguing at that time for complete withdrawal from Europe.

The PM laid out his new strategic view for Europe. The argument is about "the right approach to globalisation. There are those who want a liberal approach to free trade, as we do, who welcome competition. Others want to protect their markets through regulation. I don't think that's the way".

This is a remark of world-shaking importance. If I hadn't dwelt on the abuse we might have gone into it further. I blame Michael Howard.