The Sketch: How Blair the illusionist keeps tight grip on changing history

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The Independent Online

Any proposition a Tory leader can make that binds himself and the PM in an amiable embrace is very dangerous. The Labour back bench hate it. (Is that still legal, by the way?) Yes, they fear it. The shame is only part of the revulsion. They flinch from the visceral horror of it. They're like 19th-century mill owners looking at an Oxford-educated son.

They realise suddenly that they can't make excuses any more. The boy's not just delicate, not just an aesthete, not just effeminate - he's a yodelling, flaming, crimson-coloured homo. "Posing as a somdomite" is one thing; being revealed in an unnatural embrace with Michael Howard is unignorable.

Gregory Barker, the man with the unlikeliest hair in the House, asked a very fine question.

He noted that in 1997 (bliss it was to be alive) that the Government had abolished the right of state schools to break free from local authority control; yet reinstating that right was now the central idea behind the Prime Minister's reform programme. "In the twilight of his premiership, has he found his reverse gear?" That caused discomfort on a number of levels and was enjoyed by a clear majority on all sides of the House.

Mr Blair is so brilliant an illusionist that it's good to remember the true shape of his history. I refer you yet again to Paul Flynn's aperçu: "Under New Labour only the future is certain; the past keeps changing."

Then there was Chris Grayling. He was calling for a referral of Mr Byers to the Standards and Privileges Committee for having lied to the Commons. Mr Byers was in, sitting halfway along the same bench as Gwyneth Dunwoody. He tried to engage her but she sat like a Soviet statue, marvellously implacable.

He had lied to her committee. That was most unwise for a very wide variety of reasons.

The charge is that Mr Byers had claimed never to have discussed the future of Railtrack before a certain date but there has come to light a No 10 minute of a meeting which records an intense discussion on exactly that subject. How very interesting.

"Mr Speaker," Chris Grayling asked, "if these weren't discussions, then what on earth were they? What meaning of the word discussions does not apply to a meeting of this kind ... ?"

For an answer to that pertinent question - when is a discussion not a discussion - we will need someone of the Prime Minister's calibre.

Geoff Hoon agreed for the case to be referred, and Stephen Byers voted for it himself. That was a fitting irony. After all, he was the Blairite moderniser who renationalised a private company.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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