The Sketch: Is there anybody there? Just Harriet piloting a ghost ship

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The Independent Online

It was quiet. Too quiet. After the week's excitements we got a post-coital torpor moving on to a pre-storm calm to create a perfect depression. By the time you read this the heavens will be rent with lightning and the Furies will be flying across the sky to carry away the PM in their talons.

But yesterday Westminster, becalmed, just rolled exhausted on an oily sea.

Government MPs are depressed, despairing, bewildered, stunned, stalled awaiting slaughter. Every way they turn they are faced with some damnation or other. Public fury at their expenses, MPs paying money back, sackings, resignations, the poll slump, the plots, a leadership vacuum, email slurs, smears, plots.

They've all gone. Hazel took off with her Rock the Boat brooch and left behind the Commons a ghost ship.

For Environment questions there were two Labour backbenchers in. Two. Then there was one. Undead ministerials stood up at the despatch box – carbon markets, smart grids, tidal barrages. No one was interested. Julian Lewis's weird voice floated around in the nearly empty chamber. When he spoke I seemed to hear a voice crying, "Please don't hurt me!" I must have been dreaming. What could the public be thinking of it all, up there in their glass cage?

Who did we have? That pale grey fellow whose career high consisted of telling the truth and dislodging Mandelson from the Cabinet for the second time. He didn't say anything. The other was a woman with a Listen With Mother voice. She didn't say anything either. They spent an age not saying it.

Whatever the House of Commons is for these days – and it's looking for a role with increasing urgency – this ain't it.

Into our Council of Despair, Harriet Harman bounced like a bubbling ball of charm. She was a human Alka-Seltzer. Her fizz was the perfect form of disloyalty – you can't be convicted of cheerfulness. But there is only one reason to be cheerful. She has been conspicuously loyal to her leader. But why? Loyalty didn't get Hazel anywhere and she had been the PM's only defender in his first great unpopularity. But loyalty, Harriet hopes, is a two-edged sword.

Now the airwaves are filled with rumours. Who, what, where? The latest is that almost nothing will change. John Denham replaces the Home Secretary who resigned. Is that the great refreshment of the Government?

What about this for Chancellor. Into the Treasury the master of every economic detail in the book: reshuffled to the Treasury "to take the country through the recession"... Gordon Brown!