The Sketch: Brown vs the Pope: Will there be enough omniscience to go round?

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The leader of the House, Peter Hain made some pious noises about making the House of Commons more accessible to young people. He criticised Eric Forth, for nodding "in his medieval way" at claims the House was inaccessible to young people. Mr Forth instinctively approves of anything that makes the House less accessible to young people. But at least he means it.

Much of what the Tories plan to fight the election on - massively increased public spending, for one thing - is Labour Party policy. The Tories don't mean it but hope that saying it will make them more popular. At least Mr Forth's unpopularity allows him to say what he actually thinks. So there we were. Mr Hain said in one breath he wanted to make the place accessible to young people and in the next he accused the Tories of losing the elections last week. Young people might think the Tories, with their larger share of the vote and the seats they'd won and the larger number of councils under their control, these young people might be thinking the Tories won the elections last week. They would have to grapple with Mr Hain's explanation that he was taking into account the seasonally adjusted, regionally weighted results, balanced for this point in the electoral cycle and measured against second preference expectations. The result was the opposite, young people would find. Young people, of course, might prefer to watch mud wrestling, for its elevated sense of professional ethics.

Dennis Skinner demanded the return of the foxhunting Bill. Nothing could raise the morale in Labour constituencies, he said, and there was only three weeks left to reintroduce it. David Winnick gave some roaring boy support against "the barbaric practice" and Mr Hain made soothing noises. He was "with them in sentiment". He would make an announcement "when the time is right". Gordon Prentice, assuming it was flannel, made incredulous gesticulations from the back bench.

My information - and I can misleadingly say it comes from a cabinet minister - is the Bill will indeed be introduced in time for the Parliament Act to be applied to it but it will happen at the last possible minute. This will allow the Prime Minister to keep some leverage over his dissidents, and also squeeze the Countryside Alliance for time (they want to apply for a judicial review on human rights grounds).

Gordon Brown has passed some sort of longevity test in his position as leader-in-waiting. Oliver Letwin amused parts of the House by congratulating him on his tenure as Chancellor, comparing him with a Soviet finance minister with a very long name who'd served for 25 years and never actually became prime minister.

Mr Brown didn't laugh. He didn't smile. Actually he didn't react at all. What a sign of something that is. If only we knew what.

Mr Brown then went on to amuse other parts of the House by announcing he is meeting the Pope next month. What a clash of infallibilities that will be. How will there be enough omniscience to go round?

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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