The Sketch: Competent Howard roused our emotions, but he failed to do anything with them

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The Independent Online

If Tim Collins looked less rat-like he'd be quite a contender. And if you think that's too positive a way to start, let us pause and draw breath and start again with Andrew Lansley.

If Tim Collins looked less rat-like he'd be quite a contender. And if you think that's too positive a way to start, let us pause and draw breath and start again with Andrew Lansley.

This poor wretch is the shadow Health Secretary. He comes over as an ineffectual 12-year-old boy trapped in the body of a middle-aged woman. Quite a nice middle-aged woman, but one with anxiety problems. Not to say problems of running a health policy.

He is going to reform the health service (even though it's been reformed 19 times in 20 years). He says on day one of a Conservative government (we're casting forward a bit here) he is going to abolish all targets in health. In the next breath he lists all the new targets he's going to set (hospitals free from infection, zero waiting times for operations, and God help us, a target to set a strategy to co-ordinate efforts to tackle poor sexual health). The man should be in charge of a regional outreach strategy committee. And maybe he will be.

While Mr Lansley is an asset to sketch writers, Tim Collins is an asset to the Conservative Party. His fast, angry delivery was filled with one claptrap after another. At the end of every paragraph he commanded applause and out it came. Money for schools not lawyers! Every school will be grant-maintained because freedom works! And: "When we say we want an end to 2,000 pages a year of Whitehall circulars sent to each school, we mean it. So I'll tell him to get rid of not 10 per cent or 20 per cent but two-thirds of his entire Departmental staff."

He had the rhythm and rhetorical certainty of ... who was it he reminded us of? ... the young William Hague! He got an immediate and ungrudging standing ovation.

Michael Howard demonstrated an enormous leap in Tory professionalism and competence by not bumping into the furniture. He spoke for an hour. Goodness knows what he's going to say on Thursday when he's going to speak for another hour.

"The British people are open, generous and compassionate," he said (maybe they are in his part of south Wales). He announced the theme of his campaign. Accountability. Yes, that lights a tall fire in the mind.

"I'll choose my cabinet because I expect them to deliver. And if they don't, I'll replace them with people who will," he said. It's a threat that goes both ways.

He told us about his grandmother who'd been killed in a concentration camp. This is a dangerous thing to try in a political speech, but he pulled it off without embarrassing us. But having roused our emotions, he failed to do anything with them.

"Britain was the best country in the world... And I think it still is... But we could be doing better." As our teachers used to say.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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