The Sketch: Dead-time Thursdays? Get out the gobbledegook phrasebook

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The Independent Online

Thursdays in parliament have a dead-time feel about them, a wasteland between glamorous Wednesday and can't-catch-me Friday. We get Margaret Beckett on Thursdays or that chump Charles Clarke, or Patricia Hewitt and Jacqui Smith from Trade and Industry with their bone-headed, public service, ward-round banalities."We are setting in place action to ensure that what we do encourages competitiveness." There's no excuse for that. Nor for: "Businesses that take advantage of research are very much part of the future." No! Really? Ya think?

Ms Smith began one of her answers with a routine evasion that zero-star ministers use: "I don't recognise the context the Honourable Gentleman is using." And that started us compiling the the phrasebook they use when they don't know what else to say.

"I hope the Honourable Member isn't running down British industry?"

"I would have thought the Honourable Member would rather have welcomed and celebrated the achievements of the government than carp ..."

"No, what the important issue here is ..."

"We will take no lessons from the party opposite, who..."

This all means: "Haven't a clue," or "I'm guilty. I confess. Don't hurt my children."

Geoff Hoon (he will be missed) pleasured us with some larger evasions. "We no longer need to retain a redundancy of capability," he told us. This almost certainly means something. "You're sacked." most likely.

Then he said, more or less: "Technology, a key change driver will opportunitise the means to link sensor to shooter through the Network Enabled Capabilities." What did that mean? "You're all sacked." Yes, almost certainly.

There's going to be rebalancing going on (this involves sacking lots of soldiers). Brigades that are armoured or mechanised are going to be "reroled". This will involve taking their armour away, or their vehicles. It makes for flexibility, though no one yet knows how.

Nicholas Soames was the debutante of the day. He's the new Defence shadow. Marvellous sight. Huge suit containing enough biological material for three ministers. There's a sort of - what's the word - sincerity about him that the House likes. He's not manufacturing it for local consumption and the House rewards him with its approval. This goes to show what an odd place the Commons is. A sort of melancholy jollity comes off him and he responded to Mr Hoon with a model of parliamentary rhetoric which you can read on the internet, if you'd like to.

Mr Hoon is going to be rebalanced in the New Year (surely he can't survive the Hutton Report into the death of his employee?). He's going to be reroled. And a greater emphasis is going to be placed on the flexibility he needs to adapt to a new environment. Waiting for taxis on the pavement watching ministerial cars splash by, in the gathering dusk.