The Sketch: Democratic elections can leave you with a pretty mixed bag

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The Independent Online

The voting is complete, the chairs of the select committees are in. Perhaps Tony Blair was right and democracy really is "a universal human value", it's reached the House of Commons. The whips used to choose the composition of the committees, and the members then used to elect their chair, as juries do. Appointment was a power of patronage jealously held by the whips. Robin Cook tried to override it and failed – and so did Jack Straw. In the last days of the old government, a small number of crowd-pleasing changes were put through to "give power back to Parliament", and this was one. The results are, as you'd expect, a mixed bag.

John Whittingdale kept the chair of the Culture Committee. He's a mild-mannered right-winger who sounds like a noisy Geoffrey Howe. He ran the committee very decently. There were those extraordinary meetings over the News of the World phone-tapping; we can look forward to more brave Murdoch-baiting.

Bernard Jenkin has the Public Administration Committee, that will suit him. He is as independent-minded as Tony Wright's reputation – but probably has the finishing power to push logic to a useful conclusion. Christopher Chope lost out, which is a pity because he has a powerful way of asking a question. Tim Yeo did well, switching from Environmental Audit to Energy and Climate Change. James Arbuthnot held on to Defence, any director would cast him for it, what with his grave presence. Though he'll no longer have that turncoat minister Quentin Davies to play with (he went to the Lords).

Joan Walley beat Barry Gardiner, that must be demoralising for the beavered ex-minister. The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee was a disappointment for Fiona Mactaggart – as for the rest of us. She has developed a barking sort of heckle in the House, as if she has possessed herself of the wandering, restless spirit of Vera Baird. Instead, the chair went to that waxwork of gloomy self-importance, Graham Allen. It'll keep political and constitutional reform off the agenda.

Keith Vaz kept the Home Affairs Committee. There's nothing to say about that. A Muslim member who backed 42-day detention without trial. Margaret Hodge is the chair of the Public Accounts Committee. Maybe because she's rich MPs think she understands money. It's hard to imagine the whips would have given this most important opposition chair to Mrs Hodge. Mind you, she was no worse than the other candidates.

Richard Ottaway took Foreign Affairs from Sir John Stanley. Perhaps Sir John came across too much as a 19th-century hanging judge – but it's the latter you really want in the chair. Yet more surprisingly, amiable Andrew Tyrie won the chair of the Treasury Committee, beating the dusty but formidable Michael Fallon. There must have been an invisible team at work, organising the electorate. Democracy is so unfair.