The Sketch: In the soft light of a winter's eve, small miracles do happen

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The Independent Online

It's that time of year again; winter not gone yet and spring not come yet. One storm has passed and the next has yet to form. Members and ministers down there in the pit of parliament grumble and mumble, the afternoon drags on, and it gradually becomes clear that nothing of any consequence will ever be said again.

And then, in the exact middle of the afternoon, on the south side of the House of Commons, a soft, yellow light suddenly comes billowing down through the high windows. The whole hall is blessed by this lighting effect; the details on the wooden tracery are picked out in a painterly way, the Speaker looks lordly on his throne, the history and geography of our island kingdom are laid out before us and a great hush descends. The hush is Geoff Hoon talking. Shall we approach and see if we can hear what he is saying? I agree. Let's not.

Mr Hoon spent a good deal of question time fingering his neck, surprised to find it intact. Nicholas Soames, who hasn't been able to finger his own neck for three decades, welcomed him with enormous bonhomie. Mr Soames has no other sort of bonhomie. Mr Soames has no other sort of anything. Mr Soames was "delighted to see him back in such good form after his political Near Death Experience". What was all that about? Politicians will rake up the past. I think the rest of us have moved on.

We had more important things to occupy our attention. Such as: Who is going to be organising the church service in Bayeux for the D-Day commemoration? Alan Howarth seemed to want to know how the veterans were going to get to the church. God almighty man, they've done it before! Just give them a Bren gun and a tin hat each and they'll get to the church all right, with or without their official "photo-ID".

Mr Soames asked: Would the agreement to build our new aircraft carriers be signed by April? The answer to this was that the Tories had plans to cut public spending. Another questioner asked how the "sustainability" of the "interoperability" of British forces in Europe could be maintained when we were 12,000 troops short of full strength? The answer here was that Tories had plans to cut public spending. Keith Simpson brought up the issue of the day. He referred to the delay we'd all observed in the Government's plans to reconstruct Iraq after the war. As we know, this delay directly affected the coalition's ability to restore order and basic services - and indeed, undermines the very idea that we went to war for any humanitarian reasons at all.

Mr Simpson's question asked whether the late preparations for relief were caused by the delay in the Attorney General's opinion that the war was legal. You may have read about this in newspapers. The answer was that Tories had plans to cut public spending.

The Speaker then said: "Order, I expect the Secretary of State to answer the question," and went on, "That wasn't a proper answer."

The Speaker has distinguished himself before on this ground. It was he, remember, who interrupted Gordon Brown in full flow. It was he who told the Prime Minister to stop boring us all with his representation of the Tories' policy. Now he has gone further: he is telling ministers to answer questions properly.

The afternoon light came swelling round the Speaker's throne and a halo softly appeared round his head. You think it was a trick of the light? No: that always happens in the House of Commons when the right thing is done.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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