The Sketch: Estelle Morris wields the Cardigan of Death

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The Independent Online

"All question time is an exercise in evasiveness, misrepresentation and obfuscation," Edward Said told the House. "Many answers are designed to deceive rather than illuminate," he went on. It's true that "manifestly inadequate answers", as he terms them, are common. But it is also true that other manifestly inadequate answers aren't designed at all. Estelle Morris, for instance, responds to questions with all the intellectual sophistication of an old cardigan. No design is apparent. Her parliamentary performance can be described as shapelessness interrupted by holes. If it weren't for her face like a flower the taxpayer would be severely short-changed.

To Tam Dalyell's question (What provision was being made to protect cultural artefacts in Baghdad?) Ms Morris replied that this was "incredibly important". Could that be true? If it were incredibly important would she be allowed to answer questions on it in Parliament? "What I think is behind the question," she continued, insulting the father of the House as she went, I thought, "is that care needs to be taken." Argue with that, if you dare. "We'll keep in close contact with the Foreign Office and DfID." That'll frighten off the international looters, art terrorists and Babylon bandits. Yes, they might even send out a consultative committee.

"But I can give a firm undertaking," she concluded. That's what people are crying out for, after all. But an undertaking to do what? It wasn't even to keep the matter under scrutiny. It was "a firm undertaking that we will want to keep this under scrutiny".

David Cameron asked what lessons had been learnt from the last time these artefacts were so vulnerable, at the outbreak of the war. He offered a few examples - warnings that professional looters were targeting the Baghdad museum had been ignored; the border was so open that looters were treading on one another's heels; our legislation to prevent illegal imports was entirely inadequate; and government departments hadn't worked together as quickly as they should.

The minister of state responded with: "I very much hope lessons have been learnt." You could tell immediately she hadn't a clue what the lessons were, what the problem was, or what she was doing there. "Without wanting to make excuses, things weren't done which should have been done." Which led to the conclusion that "We are concerned that lessons are learnt." That's more the proposition than the conclusion, but she added, as if it had just occurred to her: "It's not just that lessons are learnt but that lessons are acted on that is very much the direction we should be travelling in."

Having said that, she tidied up her new shadow, Boris Johnson, with an equally vacant performance. Poor Boris still hasn't got the hang of this parliamentary thing. He hasn't got the pitch of the hall at all. Estelle stands up in front of the highly educated, fabulously well-informed media star and smothers him in her Cardigan of Death.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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