The Sketch: Hectoring missionaries do the cheerleading for Blair

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The Independent Online

"They can't really be thinking of Hazel Blears for the Cabinet?" I asked my colleague during a particularly punishing part of Home Office questions.

"They can't really be thinking of Hazel Blears for the Cabinet?" I asked my colleague during a particularly punishing part of Home Office questions.

The lady in question had been giving it her all (there was really no need). "Well," he said gloomily, "she represents the forefront of New Labour thinking." Blimey, I thought.

At the forefront of New Labour thinking you'd hope to find yourself engaged in the great debate. Should you be able to put your son down at birth for a place in one of their private prisons? Why can't the apathetic sell their vote to a community wholesaler to increase turnout statistics. And students who overachieve in their GCSEs - can't they be taxed 15 per cent of their marks to help less privileged students pass?

But alas; there don't seem to be ideas, good or bad, at the forefront of New Labour thinking. All Hazel offers is relentless and emphatic exhortation to do better. To work with local authorities. To work with the industry. To respond flexibly. Why? Because it's an absolute top priority.

That's precisely why it's essential to be out there being accessible, being in touch, reassuring the community, listening to local residents, working with the public sector, showing how a united effort can make an impact. I found myself thinking: "If I were to go home and hang myself, that would make Hazel Blears look pretty silly."

Yes, that would really spoil their performance figures measured against the national Health and Safety targets for vulnerable sketch writers (out of working hours). It might almost be worth it.

She leads the lower coterie of Home Office under-ministers - Fiona Mactaggart and Caroline Flint who all share a punitive element in their Commons rhetoric. There is so much that is unacceptable. That won't be tolerated. That will be driven out.

Antisocial behaviour particularly. "The message I give is keep at it working together driving out the antisocial behaviour of the minority" was how one of them put it.

Another revealed that the fine for buying alcohol for underage drinkers is going up to between £1,000 and £5,000. These penalties are really 18th century.

What's happening to us? Why has it come to this? Another answer in a former question time revealed the penalty for stealing a mobile phone was a maximum of five years in prison. Five years in a shared urinal! Look: If a mobile costs, for the sake of argument, a working man's daily wage, you have to go back to the 1700s to find equivalent sentences.

These bouncing, confident, hectoring missionaries are presiding over (and cheerleading for) a regime that is taking us back to a system of retribution that predates the abolition of slavery. New Labour suddenly seems very, very old.

If only our political leaders were tough on Blair and tough on the causes of Blair we might make (what's it called?) progress.