The Sketch: Hewitt addresses the Commons as if presenting special needs 'Blue Peter'

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The Independent Online

The Lib-Dems have the most innovative policy on the Department of Trade and Industry. Vincent Cable developed the policy in association with Hannibal Lecter. Mr Cable wants to abolish the department, knock down its buildings, sow the ground with salt and feast on the brains of everyone who has worked there in the past seven years.

That's the broad brush of it that I got one late night at the Lib-Dem conference last year, though not actually from Mr Cable, now I remember. It sounds like a sensible policy does it not? Transparent, practical, quite nutritious, and it saves £8bn that we could spend on fortifying our anthrax and nerve gas industry.

But then we wouldn't be able to see Jacqui Smith and Patricia Hewitt any more, and that would be a shame. Ms Hewitt addresses the Commons as if presenting a special needs Blue Peter episode - and Ms Smith talks very firmly and very distinctly at very considerable length without saying anything at all. It is impossible to say which is worse.

For instance, Ms Smith told us about the steel workshop she'd attended. What happens in a steel workshop? Fools! Of course steel isn't made, it would be against safety regulations.

This particular workshop seemed to have had a rather sensational outcome. We were told that steel workshops compare mutually co-operative enterprise schemes sharing best practice in innovation processes to ensure success in autonomous local partnerships. From Ms Smith's account it appears "there is a very strong possibility of finding opportunities of working together and developing an innovation and growth team to identify the factors to allow the sector to develop practical initiatives". Aux armes, citoyens!

Stephen O'Brien for the Tories gave us more information than we could quite consume (not that I'm complaining, mind). Manufacturing output had fallen by 0.7 per cent in November, the regulatory impact has doubled its cost to business and is now £20bn, productivity growth, foreign direct investment, personal and corporate savings have all halved and profitability in certain sectors was pitifully low.

Ms Hewitt began her long trek through a trackless response with the words: "I'm very sorry to hear the Honourable Member talking down British business." Eventually the Speaker told her to sit down (we just couldn't take any more).

The same team stays on for Women's questions.It seems Ms Hewitt isn't going to allow Sharia to be adopted in Iraq - it's not a universal (ie New Labour) value. But what about if a majority of Iraq votes for it? Democracy is one of Tony Blair's universal values.

Maybe when their department has sunk into the salt fields, Ms Hewitt and Ms Smith, armed only with a cappuccino and a sushi roll, can go and set up a department of trade and industry in Baghdad.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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