The Sketch: Enter the Prime Minister, with new pants for his Transport Secretary

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The Independent Online

"I don't accept that people were misled." The Tories couldn't believe their ears, or their luck. Here was the Prime Minister defending the indefensible Stephen Byers with the most indefensible defence.

The billowing smoke around the Transport Secretary's pants has broken into open flames. What is to be done? How will the Government act? By buying him some new pants, apparently.

Mr Byers had misled everyone on television by saying he'd had nothing to do with Martin Sixsmith's resignation. Then he misled the House with a misleading statement about how he had misled the viewers. His statement, entitled "The Resignation of Martin Sixsmith", misled everyone into thinking Martin Sixsmith had resigned. Yesterday, the minister's own department announced that Martin Sixsmith was on the payroll even now.

Questioned about this rat's nest, the Prime Minister told an incredulous House: "I don't accept that people were misled." This was too daring, even for the Prime Minister's stupidest claque, the MPs with heads like footballs who cheer and groan when the hand signals tell them to. They sat squashed and dumb like a rack of doughnuts. It was too much. Try it yourself: "I do not accept that people were misled." You can't say it, can you? Not and mean it. You'll never be Prime Minister.

The greatest political virtues are faith, hope and loyalty and the greatest of these is loyalty. But loyalty forces even the straightest of guys into twisted, crooked postures. You could pull corks with the shape Tony Blair has forced himself into. Iain Duncan Smith doesn't have the footwork or the Rory Bremner range of characters Tony Blair can draw on, but he does have a certain stupid solidity which on rare but important occasions shows up our leader's moral structure to be a cat's cradle of expediency, cowardice, idealism, fraudulence, ruthlessness, decency, obduracy, appetite, fear, popularity-mania and power madness.

Like anyone with shaky integrity, he hates most of all to have his integrity questioned. His face physically darkens as though black blood is being pumped up from his pit.

Chris Chope asked him if he would release public funds to sue The Daily Telegraph for defamation. It had called Mr Byers a liar, by saying: "Mr Byers is a liar." Mr Blair showed himself in need of legal advice when he said he wouldn't "for the reason I gave earlier, that the allegations are false". As any lawyer knows, that's exactly when you issue writs.

Patrick McLoughlin, a bit of a vocal oaf, and usefully so in this case, quoted heavily two lines from Hansard, in a point of order. Stephen Byers used precisely these words: "Martin Sixsmith offered his resignation, which was accepted." How could you "not accept" that people had been misled? The only people who weren't misled were those who understand an early rule of politics which states that politicians generally mean the opposite of what they say.

So when the PM denounces the press for spreading cynicism we can assume he wants to see very much more of it. Which is why, we at last understand, he said: "I don't accept that people were misled."