The Sketch: Blair's jokes fell as flat as Norfolk but his resilience is admirable

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The Independent Online

Was it only eight weeks ago I asked the sleaze question? Why did the idea of sleaze fail to attach itself to New Labour? Readers wrote in with ingenious theories, but events overtook them.

The Government is now - quite suddenly - considered so sleazy that Mr Blair polls lower than Jeffrey Archer as Minister for Cash Payments. And a point has surely been tipped when the size of the Deputy Prime Minister's penis is all over the newspapers. Only in the tabloids, it's true, but if female accounts are accurate, there isn't the substance to fill a broadsheet page.

Rushing as I always do to the side of the underdog (it's a mission of mercy for me and my hypodermic) I find the Prime Minister very down but by no means out.

He stood up to a fine performance by David Cameron; he sat down to a very poor performance from his own side. Two of his charming jokes fell Norfolk-flat. A fatal silence from his back bench was filled by merciful Tory jeers (the fools).

However, Mr Cameron's joke went down so well that it even made the Deputy Prime Penis laugh. "He went to Khartoum only because he wanted to see Gordon murdered." (It was probably one of Hague's.) "A little rehearsed, I'm afraid," the Prime Minister said and produced his own rehearsed line: "I asked someone to look out his policies. He's only got two. Children's clothes and chocolate oranges."

But Mr Cameron had the No 10 document on the local election debacle. They must be gobbling LSD in the lavs up there. The PM's planning committee reported: "The public are angry with Tony. But they are angry because they love him so much and they think he might go." Multiple exclamation marks cannot do justice to it.

"That's what they call the view from the bunker," Mr Cameron said. Oh yes.

The amazing thing is Blair can defend it all and retain any sort of standing. The big tent has collapsed. The missing billions. Resentful public service workers. Marauding foreign rapists. Iraq. Sleaze. Loans. Bribes. And everywhere you look: his deputy's penis. It's a tribute to his resilience, his cheerfulness, his sheer, bloody dementia that he wants to continue pursuing his "reform agenda".

But he has set himself up for a lethal blow - I can't remember him ever being provably wrong but his policy of returning all foreign prisoners is legally impossible. The EU won't allow it. Foreign prisoners from the EU cannot be deported for ordinary criminal behaviour.

He has never lost an argument but now he has pinned his credibility on one he can't win. Is Cameron saving it for later?