The Sketch: He has been given the ammunition, but let's hope Mr Thing misses the target

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Cool Mr Thing was in for the Urgent Question, and goodness knows he has urgent questions of his own to consider. Now, in its pontifical mode, the Sketch can choose fallible or infallible utterance. On this occasion, it speaks infallibly. The Conservative leader has a 42 per cent chance of surviving this leadership crisis.

If he does survive, he will be left with the Groucho Marx question: would he really want to lead a party so gutless, so stupid, so ineffectual that it couldn't even get rid of him?

But first, in Home Office questions, Fiona Mactaggart gave us one of this parliament's vilest neologism (the opposite of "benefits" as "disbenefits"), matched only by Caroline Flint's Frankenstein creation of "end-to-end attitude", as in "we have to have an end-to-end attitude to this very challenging problem".

Neither of these was quite as horrible as under-secretary Boggins or Noggins or Gubbins who responded to a Tory point about the criminal overcrowding in prisons. Dominic Grieve noted that the prison population was set to hit 88,000 in three years' time even though there would only be room for 70,000. Mr Nubbins or Buggins or Goggins told him the Government was taking all necessary measures. The fact is that prisons will remain horribly overcrowded and efforts to educate and rehabilitate remain pitifully below the need. Why? Prisoners can't vote. That's why politicians display an "end to end attitude" to them.

Quentin Davies asked the House an Urgent Question as they're now called. And it was a belter. No wonder the Speaker tried to make him stop. We should record that during these Urgent proceedings, Mick "The Mouth" Martin was grinning at Labour's front bench from the Speaker's chair. Once, he winked at his old comrades. This is a new low; I hadn't taken Mr Martin for a winker.

Quentin Davies has a large and rather frightening head. This was a useful asset for his Urgent Question. The Prime Minister, as noted last week, ran a familiar line about the IRA decommissioning its weapons. This process is being conducted in secret with the widely respected General de Chastelaine as our intermediary. Under the peculiar terms of the process, he can only say what the IRA allow him to say. The Prime Minister took advantage of that last week to tell us he had inside information (from General de Chastelaine himself, we inferred) that proved the decommissioning process was much further ahead than events have proved it to be. He said: "I can't tell you everything I know, but if you had the information that I have, you'd believe what I believe." Some of us remember him precisely the same sort to persuade us that WMD existed in Iraq.

Quentin Davies came as close as he could to calling the Prime Minister a liar. The general had given Mr Blair no additional facts to support this interpretation, he said. And Mr Davies had an affidavit to prove it. So, the beleaguered Tory leader is set up with a chance to rock the Prime Minister tomorrow, and thereby win in the 1922 Committee later in the day. It is essential for British democracy that he fails. That, too, is infallible utterance.