The Sketch: Enter Mrs Prentice, with all the gravitas of Bubble

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The Independent Online

Sketch: "Is it Mrs Harman or Mrs Prentice doing Questions today?"

Official: "Probably Mrs Prentice as it's more constitutional than criminal."

Sketch: "But isn't it the same thing, these days?"

A joke! And question time hadn't even started.

Harriet Harman arrived in a fragrance, and glowed from the front bench. Virtue is the secret that keeps her complexion so petal-soft. Tessa Jowell and she used to look like sisters in that soap ad; now Harriet looks like Tessa's daughter in that other soap ad.

Harriet's immediate reaction to the loans revelation was to resign her ministerial interest in constitutional affairs. That's not the same as resigning, obviously. Her husband, treasurer of the Labour party, you remember, knew nothing of the loans-for-lordships and broke the scandal. At that point, Harriet could have chucked husband or job and chose job. Or part of the job. Hence aura of fragrant heroism.

The downside of her selflessness is that Bridget Prentice answers questions on the constitution. Mrs Prentice has one unique and highly prized talent. She brings to her position the gravitas of Ab Fab's Bubble and is therefore able to bring the Government into greater disrepute than it already is.

Mrs P said transparency was essential and they were going to legislate to make loans declarable. She seems not to realise there are many other ways of acquiring credit than through loans (technical suggestions to the address below are welcome).

Sir Alan Haslehurst continues to canter through the order paper and, further joy, got us to number 24, about the House of Lords.

A Scots MP wanted the Lords elected. He said it would take a very rich man indeed to offer loans to the majority of his electors. This went to the heart of our system of government. A Scotch economist of the 18th century said: "Democracy will endure only until the majority of electors realise they can vote themselves largesse from the public purse." It is a low thought, and quite low enough to be true.

NB: The Met had leant on the Public Administration Committee and got them to put off their evidence session with the unlordly Lenders, even though neither are under investigation. Actually, no one is under investigation, Plod is still in the middle of his stupid "scoping study".

Ian Blair's job looks very much more secure than it did two weeks ago. To fire a police chief who is investigating the Prime Minister would be even beyond this Government's blushes. But it's not therefore in the Met's interests to complete the investigation swiftly. So the Committee's threat to resume evidence-gathering in three weeks should focus the police attention. It will be a parliamentary triumph if this Commons committee can find out to whom those cheques were made out and to follow the money to the gory end.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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