The Sketch: It's not cash-for-questions, but this is sleazy enough

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The Independent Online

I said yesterday the dodgy donor issue wouldn't run. So let me address this scandalously bad prediction in the normal way.

A full apology. If anyone took my indication to mean the story wouldn't run that is obviously something I regret.

Lay out the facts. I accepted the information provided by the PM's chief briefer after PMQs and came away in good faith thinking the man in charge of donations was in the clear.

Accept responsibility. While I accept full and complete responsibility, obviously I wasn't to blame for anything.

Lessons will be learnt. I won't rely on anything said by Downing Street again.

Procedures will be put in place. Instead of standing on the edge of the briefing huddle I'll go and have lunch.

Now let's move on.

Hatbox Harman looked remarkably cool at Business Questions, considering. Her husband can't survive this surely, not the second time round. The PM's donations manager is in it up to his neck. If they go, that'll be three big casualties in as many weeks.

Theresa May made several gallant efforts to lay out the charges against the Leader of the House yesterday, but the Speaker kept calling her out of order. Except when Labour barracked her loudly, then she was back in order. It's not the right forum for a detailed exposition of who knew what when. But she did well enough with sleaze. Tories able to call sleaze, that's how far we've come.

Hatty said she might "huff and puff but not blow this Leader of the House away".

Even I am not so much of a brute to liken Hatty to one little pig. But she won't save her bacon like that, I fear.

It wasn't cash for questions, quite, but if we need sleaze in the House, it will do for now. Hatty defended herself with a line about "new procedures". It's very depressing, this automatic fallback on to procedure. It's becoming an assumption that if people don't have procedure to guide them they are incapable of doing the right thing. Oh, I see, perhaps you're right.

On a further point she rather disgraced herself I fear. Bill Cash and Michael Connarty from the European Scrutiny Committee asked for a debate on the Reform Treaty before Gordon Brown signs the thing next month. She waved the point away. But, Cash pointed out, the treaty is something Escom has "under reserve" as it's called. No minister can sign up to anything that is under reserve.

As I understand it, scrutiny reserve has the authority of a resolution of the House. Is that serious? It certainly sounds serious. Procedural, even.

Why is Gordon, for all his pro-parliament rhetoric, having to be pushed around to follow procedure? If he's dragged from Downing Street to appear before Escom, his character of Mr Bean will be confirmed.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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