The Sketch: Few answers from a weary premier in tactical retreat

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The Independent Online

Even junior MPs have realised that asking a variety of questions allows the minister to concentrate on the easiest. The top of our parliamentary hierarchy has fallen into this first-term error (odd, as they consider themselves as cabinet equals).

At the monthly press conference, they now ask two and sometimes three entirely different questions in one large portmanteau. They then slip in another one or two if they can before the Prime Minister moves on. "What is this, an interview?" he says occasionally, in his amused way.

The feeling of fin de siècle deepens day by day. The PM smiles a little more slowly than usual, and his voice lacks bounce. It's the start of his summer weariness (it's been a longer year than usual).

He also has a new characteristic answer: "I've said all I want to say on that." Or, "I'm really not going to get into that." Or, "I don't think I can say much more on that." In his prime, the characteristic beginning was: "Where I agree with you is ..." before launching a vigorous demolition project. In the past couple of days he's used the "nothing more on that" formula a dozen times in an hour and a half of questioning.

This isn't to say he's run out of things to say, the device is a tactical retreat from arguments that won't serve his broader purpose. He still comes out blazing, and in a way that's worth listening to. "It's absurd to say you're against illegal migration but against ID cards." They really might introduce the beastly things, I've never thought they'd actually try. "If you think you're going to have the ordinary criminal justice system to deal with this (massive influx of foreign criminals etc...), it ain't going to happen." He hasn't finished with habeas corpus yet, and has hardly started with the presumption of innocence.

One of us asked "What the **** is that ****** old ***** doing still in the Government with his tiny *****?" He replied quietly: "He's doing what deputy prime ministers have often done." Pause for readers' heckling. He finished: "Giving support to the Prime Minister." That might actually be the truth.

Should our utilities be sold to foreigners? "The test I apply is the consumer. Is it good for the consumer?" And "The consumer benefits from a free market." And best of all, "If governments start pouring politics all over it it won't succeed."

If only he'd started where he's ended up we'd all be a lot further ahead. And he'd be heading for a full fourth term.

PS: Comment from a reader: those Muslims who were arrested in the raid. There were 250 police, and other emergency services, and a vast amount of NHS time spent as well. Can't we charge the men arrested with wasting police time? (Thank you Derek).