The Sketch: Hansard is no help in this confusion

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The Independent Online

But let's not get the lawyers involved, let's assume that everyone is telling the truth, acting from the best motives, working to reveal the higher nature of humanity. Any two of the above will do. Actually, one would be fine, and beeasier to assume.

David Cameron quoted from the Gould report on that Scottish election in which 140,000 people lost their vote. Government ministers, he said (or he said it said) "frequently focused on partisan political interests and overlooked voter interests". (Sharp intake of breath round the House.)

The Prime Minister replied by saying the report "scrupulously sought to avoid assigning blame to individuals and institutions".

Both quoting from the same report. One says young Douglas Alexander had been singled out for particularly bitter criticism and the other says that no one had been blamed at all.

No, we don't want lawyers, we need philosophers. How do we reconcile these things? Cameron: "The man responsible at the time as Secretary of State for Scotland is now the International Development Secretary... How can he possibly go round the world lecturing other countries about probity in elections?"

Ow, ow, ow, frankly. If it's true. But was it true? The Prime Minister said Cameron "was misleading the House" causing a collateral row as he did so. So, if you're a supporter of the Prime Minister and his moral compass you will assume that no one has been blamed and that if anyone is blamed it's everyone rather than someone and particularly the system and that other parties were just as much to blame if anyone is.

You may have to refer to Hansard if you feel that is confusing. Not that Hansard will help.

And Cameron went back to "page 17" where Gould writes this stinging sentence: "a notable level of party self-interest in ministerial decision-making". But that, according to Brown, was "misleading". Uproar. Long consultation with the clerks. An appeal for "temperate language".

"Misleading" is not as bad as saying a member is lying through his stained and filthy teeth but it practically is, in the Commons. Nonetheless, in one of his more innovative rulings, the Speaker ruled that it was parliamentary language (joining "tosser", which was used in 2006).

"I don't know how the Prime Minister has the gall to accuse me of misleading anyone," Cameron said.

But it's there at No 1 in the 120 Laws of Politics: "Always accuse your opponent of your own most obvious fault."

Cameron sat there shaking his head in amazement.

PS: Gordon's PPS Ian Austin must have some internal fortitude. Week after week, he is slapped back by the Speaker and yet he still persists.

"Stay away from my chair!" he was told. But far from being humiliated he was hardly abashed. Political mutants are driving parliamentary evolution faster than we're used to.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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