The Sketch: Foot's gag is used to give the Prime Minister a kick in the teeth

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The Independent Online

How we laughed; it was a very good joke. It was the last Prime Minister's Questions and Michael Howard was playing to a packed house. He was throwing everything he had at the Prime Minister's personal reputation.

How we laughed; it was a very good joke. It was the last Prime Minister's Questions and Michael Howard was playing to a packed house. He was throwing everything he had at the Prime Minister's personal reputation.

"Is that why, in the Chancellor's words, we can't believe anything he says?" again and again, to increasing Labour discontent. Very well then: "How many Labour members have put the Prime Minister's photograph on their election pamphlets? Come on, how many!" There was a tremendous sense of inactivity on the Labour benches. Maybe they didn't want to collaborate in a Tory clap-along. But that would make it look as though no one had put the Prime Minister in their pamphlets. But maybe they hadn't. What a quandary they were in, no wonder we laughed. Eventually, half a dozen Labour members put hands up but so timidly they would have been better sitting on them.

One fool up the back tried to compensate for 300 colleagues by putting all his arms up at once and multiplying himself. He didn't entirely succeed. Mr Howard's trick might have reminded the older observers of the last time it was played. Who did it before? It was too good to be original. Did it ring a bell with you? Mr Blair grinned, he's good at ruefulness but it must have stung. He didn't let it show. Whatever Mr Howard said he said what he always says at every PMQs, it's remarkable how little it's changed over five years. He is consistent, at least, I hope you'll give him that.

He made a mistake, people thought, by presuming the outcome of the vote. "I know what judgement they'll make," he said more than once. That's the sort of thing voters are said to dislike.

He talked about "the fundamental nature of the choice" before us, as though we were going to have to make a fundamental choice.

I thought the fundamental choice had been made for us already. The Tories are promising to do everything Labour is promising, and Labour is promising to do everything the Tories are promising. Whoever gets in, Britain will enjoy lefty spending and the Tories' punitive sense of justice.

John Hume asked Mr Blair to bring about world peace (it was the start of a good joke but lacked a punchline). And John Grogan suggested Labour was better value because it offered a two-for-one. We could have a tried and tested prime minister along with a chancellor with good prospects. Gordon Brown laughed politely and then realised he was laughing and stopped very suddenly. That made us laugh as well.

Now then, Mr Howard's joke. Whose was it, originally? Experts remember it as Michael Foot's. It was part of his last speech as leader against Mrs Thatcher. No wonder everyone laughed.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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