The Sketch: Brown puts the stress on scrutiny

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The Independent Online

He hasn't quite bounced back but he's certainly reflated. The PM at his last parliamentary occasion of the session sounded pretty good. I feel this sketch hasn't got off to the start many might have hoped for. "Barking like a seal, Gordon Brown tore open his shirt and revealed he was resigning as Prime Minister to take up a high level position in al-Qa'ida." No, he was relaxed, discursive, evasive, unreliable – he was back on form.

On constitutional questions he regretted the fact that PMQs was such a Punch and Judy affair. He wished things weren't "so party political". Was this the same PM, Patrick Cormack asked, who had the day before denounced the opposition parties for "having no policies on jobs, investment, growth, public services, education, families, having NOTHING to offer the British people!"? Gordon smiled. It had been banter. Knockabout. The Liberals had said the same about him. These committee hearings, he said, were a better forum for scrutiny.

They ought to be but they never are. He treats questions as a cue for a tutorial. "Speak to us of Bank of England independence!" He gives us 10 minutes about how that simple act wrung inflation out of the British economy (stupid thing to say for someone who knows so much, but there it is).

Yes, he does say some things which take away the breath. Try this of Afghanistan: "Training of the police must be to a standard to eliminate corruption." Who knows where you'd start to scrutinise such a statement. We've only recently got corruption in the Metropolitan Police down to acceptable levels. But to eliminate it! In Afghanistan!

James Arbuthnot produced an innovation in scrutiny techniques. He put a bag over the Prime Minister's head and forced him upside down into three separate stress positions. No, he said, "I'd like to ask you about the headline claiming the Army asked for 2,000 extra men and you gave them 700. I'm going to ask you three questions and these are what they are." He itemised them 1-2-3, and then asked them. "Did the chief of the Army come to see you?"

The answer began: "You misunderstand the nature of the relationship", and then went off in every direction.

Good try, Arbuthnot, but not good enough. Try the bag over the head next time.

Still, they've settled on their line about Afghanistan. It's the front line in the – what we used to call – the Global War on Terror. They're protecting us from Bradford-born jihadists.

I can't help thinking the £3bn a year would pay for a lot of schools, jobs, hospitals and Muslim theologians in Bradford. And we might better understand how to deal with Bradford Muslims than Afghani – because in Bradford, they are British. If it means anything to be British, that must help.

simon@sketch.sc

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