The Sketch: How can Mr Nice not become Mr Irrelevant now Brown's coming?

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The Independent Online

He must be up to something, he's being terrifically nice, even by his own terrifically nice standards. He lavishes respect on his questioners. There's something going on.

He's off to America, you know. Perhaps he's going to bring something big back in return for his suicidal support in Iraq - something progressive and lefty and unBush-like, something impressive but inconsequential. A Middle East peace conference, perhaps. A redraft of the road-map with a new one-way system and a bypass. If he does pull it off, he knows that only the most abject humility now will turn away the wrath of his backbench when he produces the very thing they've been asking for.

Frankly, I don't know how he does it. All those opinions he has to have. Imagine having to answer questions on the following topics, one after the other.

The Ayrshire Anomaly. The Duke of Wellington's Regiment. The Black Watch Christmas leave arrangements. The medal eligibility of 1940s Arctic Convoy personnel who'd served less than six months. Profits made from the NHS by drug companies. Disappearing insurgents in Fallujah. The status of Regional Assemblies in a post-devolutionary Britain. A prosperous two-state solution for Palestinians and Israelis. The planning powers of central government and local councils. And whether to increase the resource allocation for a life skills centre in Brent which is run on a demand led basis to increase its financial viability ...

I'm exhausted writing all this down. Imagine having to think enough to find something to say about it all. Imagine having to care enough to be able to think enough about what - for instance - the Ayrshire Anomaly is (what, you haven't been following the Lyon's Review? Leave this column immediately!).

Now that Vote Blair, Get Brown is more of a reality, attacks on the prime ministerial integrity carry less weight. Michael Howard is in danger of being left behind. He asked why the PM was briefing Scottish newspapers that the Black Watch would be reprieved while preparing for their demise?

That is not the sort of thing a confident, incoming Tory should be saying. Maybe he feels it doesn't matter much what he says. The great drama is working itself out without any input from the Tories. Blair is going, Brown is coming. How will that work out?

Have you ever resigned from a job and worked out your month's notice? It's a peculiar experience: you start to disappear in long dissolve. People stop talking to you (what's the point?). From day to day, you become more of a ghostly presence as the burdens are carried more and more by those around you.

No matter how Gordon Brown contains his confidence, colleagues will want to know more and more what he thinks of the Prime Minister's proposals for the third term and less and less of what the Prime Minister thinks of them. How would you deal with that? Niceness? Will niceness be enough?