The Sketch: Hoon falls victim to friendly fire but most questions miss their target

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The Independent Online

At one point, all the men sitting on the front bench had a hand over their mouth. Each looked like the Speak No Evil monkey. They could see the evil, they could hear the evil, but they weren't going to speak the evil. That was Geoff Hoon's job.

At one point, all the men sitting on the front bench had a hand over their mouth. Each looked like the Speak No Evil monkey. They could see the evil, they could hear the evil, but they weren't going to speak the evil. That was Geoff Hoon's job.

Students of political language are making some progress. We now know what "no decision has yet been made" means. Nothing. It doesn't mean anything. That is, it may mean what it says, or it may mean the opposite. Such a versatile sentence can't help anyone except the speaker, and only then to conceal the essence of the discussion.

On Monday, Mr Hoon said no decision on deployment had been made, even though intense preparations were proceeding apace. The decision to deploy was only made in Cabinet yesterday morning. This is useful to the extent that it shows us the question is useless.

"What is the question that prompts the answer, 'Yes, We Have No Bananas'?" That is a useful question.

"Are there plans for further deployment?" as Nicholas Soames asked - that is not a useful question. Mr Hoon will say (does say): "There are no plans to send a further 1,300 troops to Iraq as suggested this morning."

A contingency plan is not a plan; a request that is certain to be approved is not a plan; an intention is not a plan; an undertaking of support is not a plan. There are no plans to send 1,300 troops, but there may be plans to send 1,200 troops, or 1,400 troops.

Mr Hoon is in fighting form. He denounced "the cheap political points" his opponents made, calling them "ignorant" and "foolish". He antagonised his own side - "Don't patronise me!" Glenda Jackson flung at him - and discovered, as Julian Lewis pointed out, the meaning of the term "friendly fire".

And because he's not used to live action he made us wince when he denounced the Lib Dems in the following terms: "Are they seriously saying to the family of Ken Bigley they don't want democratic elections in Iraq?" Yes, I can hear you wincing as well.

The afternoon was heavily whipped and the old booby in the Speaker's chair seemed to join in the whipping. The first questioner he called was Mike Gapes, the solitary Labour backbencher who'd spoken up for the Government on Monday.

A significant body of protest remained. Several remarked on the American predilection for massive firepower, air strike and heavy armour and said that there would inevitably be heavy civilian casualties if this level of force were used against Fallujah. It would damage British standing in the country and the region if we were associated operationally with the assault, more than one said.

Mr Hoon caused a small uproar opposite and a terrible silence behind by saying: "I don't accept the logic. Modern weaponry can be guided precisely."

If only modern questioning were as accurate.

NB: Mr Hoon pronounces it I-rack. As in going to I-rack and I-ruin.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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