The Sketch: Britain is doing so well it can create jobs in Romania

Of all the Trade and Industry ministers, two are Scots and the boss is an Aussie, who's like a female Dame Edna Everage
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The Independent Online

Of four Trade and Industry ministers only one is English – poor Melanie Johnson. Two others are Scots and the boss is an Aussie.

Her name is Patricia Hewitt, she's like a female Edna Everage: her elocution is such a soothing confection of reassurance that it makes you want to burn down buildings. She used to work for the firm of accountants that was banned from government work because it misled too many people. Ponder the irony of that for a moment.

Of the Post Office she said: "We have given them commercial freedom within the public sector." What does that mean, you might ask? Typical of politicians. They stick a lion and a lamb into a dark room and expect them to lie down together. It turns out the Post Office (you can call it Consignia if you want) has complete freedom to run its affairs as long as it collects and delivers mail once a day all over the country and charges the same rate everywhere. Readers may observe the fundamental lack of commercial freedom in its commercial freedom.

Play was made of the £200m the Government had earmarked to support industry. Two hundred million pounds! You didn't believe it, did you? Brian Cotter revealed that only five claims had been made against this handsome sum, and only £27,000 had been paid out.

Simon Thomas (he's Welsh, you know) asked a question which cheered us up. His local company, Allied Steel and Wire, had already lost £5m as a result of the Romanian steel contract going to Lakshmi Mittal (you know, the fellow that bunged the Labour Party £125,000, and Mr Blair wrote a letter of support for his bid). Ms Johnson described this point as "ludicrous and cheap". Why? I don't know.

The front bench Tory spokesman John Whittingdale did rather well. Forgive the note of surprise. He noted that the steel industry was suffering from overcapacity. He asked what benefit British industry would derive from Mr Blair supporting the Mittal bid.

Melanie Johnson replied to great cries of derision: "It is a market opening in Romania for British industry."

By what definition, Mr Whittingdale asked, could the company be described as British? Registered in a Caribbean tax haven, and 0.1 per cent of its employees in Britain? There was no benefit to Britain in Mr Blair's support, other than a return for favours to the Labour Party! Ms Johnson said he was trivialising the argument. She said the Government was about creating jobs. (In Romania? Really?) Mr Whittingdale was said to have problems facing the real issue.

And to finish the week, another Jo "Bury Me" Moore story. An e-mail surfaced in The Mirror yesterday. Damaging rail statistics were to be released.

It was reported the e-mail said that on the day in question, only Princess Margaret should be buried. It was an obvious forgery. It turns out to be true. How do we know that? Downing Street said it was completely untrue. Ah! Of course!

"This dreadful woman!" Eric Forth said. "I don't want to hear of or about or from her ever again."

In this case Ms Moore's probably innocent. I'll rephrase that. She's probably not guilty, but it's hard to disagree with Mr Forth anyway.

Simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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