The Sketch: Hewitt reigns like the Queen of the Undead

Click to follow
The Independent Online

You rarely get an attractive exposition of Tory philosophy in the House, so this was very welcome. In brief, we were told that tobacco was wrong, but it was part of the current reality. The scare stories are very overplayed. Let us coexist with tobacco and find ways of mitigating the harm it does without resorting to brutal legislation with all its unintended stupid consequences (humorous examples which readers can find in Hansard this morning). The argument was delivered cheerfully. Labour hated that more than the casual erudition (we heard the words "dystopic" "Draco the Lawgiver" and "raft of the Medusa").

The most aggressive and self-righteous intervention on this argument came from the Malvolio character who chairs the Health Select Committee (name escapes me, and be honest, you too). "Ventilation does not work!" he asserted brutally, as the Tories chuckled and laughed and encouraged their philosophical champion (it was Stephen Pound, incidentally, Labour).

Patricia Hewitt continued her reign of the Undead. She made the single least likely claim ever heard on the floor of the House. Sir Patrick Cormack asked her which way she was going to vote on the smoking ban exemptions. She said it was a very finely balanced issue and she was going to listen carefully to all the arguments before making up her mind. She should resign.

The Opposition spokesman Andrew Lansley was probably the most stupid of the unintended consequences of the new Tory leadership. It's very hard to understand anything he says, and when you do understand, you can't believe it. He's a team player, I suppose, the last refuge of the second-rate. His part in the team is to provide the mash in the mish-mash.

The Lansley position is that private members' clubs should be exempt from the total ban in public places - because the "freedom to choose in one's own private place must be allowed". Yet he supports a partial total ban to protect "vulnerable workers".

Yet there are 155,000 workers in private clubs passively smoking in the most active way, dropping like soldiers on the second day of the Somme, if Lansley is to be believed. Come to that, what about the millions of au pairs that make private homes public workplaces under this government? The man's a waffling ning-nong with a brain like a string bag.

There's no need to be that horrid, you say? Alas, alas. Lansley is a proxy of the state of Tory philosophical development. They think they still have time. Maybe they have not grasped the fact that there's going to be an election next year. Remember, Tony Blair said he'd serve "most of a full parliamentary term"? When Gordon gets the job the first thing he'll do is go to the country for his five-year mandate - before the Tories' policy committees have even reported.

Tories must realise this: There is no time for Lansley!