The Sketch: He talks swill and says nothing. The lad will go a long way

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The Independent Online

The Government said it was going to hit the ground running. Jack Straw was running so fast he ended up in New York. Obviously he couldn't be in the House to launch the Queen's Speech debate. It was left to an underling, the 17-year-old Scottish lawyer called Douglas Alexander, to give us the Government's third-term foreign policy. The lad used to do Gordon Brown's photocopying, so he has come far. Perhaps he should start home again, it's late to be out at his age.

The Government said it was going to hit the ground running. Jack Straw was running so fast he ended up in New York. Obviously he couldn't be in the House to launch the Queen's Speech debate. It was left to an underling, the 17-year-old Scottish lawyer called Douglas Alexander, to give us the Government's third-term foreign policy. The lad used to do Gordon Brown's photocopying, so he has come far. Perhaps he should start home again, it's late to be out at his age.

He didn't make a speech as such, but stirred the Foreign Office's bathwater for three quarters of an hour. Some sediment lifted off the bottom, and this served to obscure anything he might have wanted to say. The Foreign Office will reward him for this talent, for it is the one it prizes above all others.

In response to a question from David Winnick about the Government's position on Uzbekistan, he said in one complete sentence: "Clearly, once the facts are established we wouldn't want to prejudge the response of the international community." Connoisseurs agree that this swill is of the highest standard.

Chris Mullin contributed something from a position so remote in the backbenches it has a postcode. He was on the Foreign Office front bench a moment ago, with a car and a staff; today he isn't anywhere at all. He sold his soul for a government job, and now he must be wondering whether he can afford to buy it back. Maybe he could rent one; Jack Straw's must be available on very favourable terms.

The Tories were represented by Dr Liam Fox. His supporters call him Dr Death. It's not clear why. He's an amiable, tennis-club sort of fellow. Dr Living Death, at worst. If he were leading the party, it's hard to believe anyone would notice. He used the occasion - daringly, you might think - to pitch for his party's leadership. You don't expect a shadow spokesman to do such a thing in the middle of a Commons debate.

But here he is, denouncing his leader's election performance and presenting his prescription for party renewal: "There has been too much tactical thinking and not enough strategic vision. We need to look for new opportunities and challenges. Our long-term prospects are dependent on finding new voters ... We need to ditch the hang-ups of those who seem obsessed with apologising for our history and turn the goodwill and respect that still exists so extensively for this party into new opportunities. We need to look ever more outwards ..."

In point of fact, I've changed two words (voters and party) and pedants will insist he was talking about the Government's foreign policy. But every portrait is a self-portrait and Dr Fox was talking about himself.

It is, in all, a very great pleasure to be back.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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