The Sketch: Hugs and blushes as Howard brings touch of festive fun

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The Independent Online

The festive season started early as the House showed we were still able to laugh at foreigners. President Bambang Susilo Yudhoyono got an appreciative (though possibly illegal) cheer from all members when he was named in full. In a House that contains honourable and right honourable members called, if memory serves, Throwup, Bestial Sex and Uncontrollable Afflatus, that belies a certain lack of self-awareness.

The festive season started early as the House showed we were still able to laugh at foreigners. President Bambang Susilo Yudhoyono got an appreciative (though possibly illegal) cheer from all members when he was named in full. In a House that contains honourable and right honourable members called, if memory serves, Throwup, Bestial Sex and Uncontrollable Afflatus, that belies a certain lack of self-awareness.

Michael Howard got in a pretty good dig at the Prime Minister's ribs by quoting his Home Secretary's judgements on the rest of his front bench. Losers, pedants, stop-gaps, seat-warmers, idiots and Margaret Beckett, he'd called them. The remarks had been made to a journalist last year and are being widely circulated now.

The Home Secretary's head was bobbing and nodding as though his circuits were shorting wildly. When Mr Howard quoted his judgement on the Prime Minister as someone who didn't like people standing up to him, Blunkett's head was nodding and shaking at the same time. Maybe it'll fall off and we can all play (political) football.

The Chancellor was characterised as "a bully". Hearing this, Mr Blunkett put his arm round the Chancellor's shoulders and hugged him. It was horrible, even for us watching. Mr Brown's face was a study of austere stoicism. After suffering, the Chancellor leant away. He wasn't enjoying any of this, not one little bit. He could be back in the Treasury computing historic bond yields.

The smile had been wiped off his face when Mr Howard concluded by listing bandwagons that the Prime Minister had jumped on. There'd been Michael Foot's. Then CND's. And then Gordon Brown's campaign to take over the Labour Party. Mr Brown had been quite enjoying himself until that one went home. His chortling stopped abruptly and he went off into his other world, looking for that quiet place, that safe place. Perhaps he was looking for the connection between catatonic and catatony.

Mr Blair dealt with it all with good humour, grace and comic timing. We shall miss him. Iraqi dead, anyone? Apparently the Iraqi ministry of health has the most reliable figures (that is, the lowest). If our own world-class NHS statistics are the guiding principle, "Run over by a tank" will be registered as "traffic accident" and prompt burials won't register at all.

Mr Blair also said that we needed to attack poverty because it is the underlying cause of terrorism. He probably doesn't believe that, but if he does we're in more trouble than we'd thought. Islamic terrorism is not motivated by poverty but by a passionate, evangelical belief in an irritable god. If the Prime Minister is going to attack that, then he'll be charged under David Blunkett's new law which makes rudeness against religion illegal. He'll be tried and sentenced to seven years in jail, with the option of having his tongue cut out, if the more serious religious elements get their way with the Bill.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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