The Sketch: Jowell reveals a culture of gibberish in her department

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The Independent Online

It just wasn't going in. Culture questions was making much less sense than usual. Were ministers particularly uninformative? Was the departmental gibberish inflected in - I don't know - early Etruscan Stalinism? Or was I distracted by the imminent prospect of having five stitches pulled out of my increasingly septic finger (yes, it's happened again)?

Physical pain has a powerful effect on my powers of concentration (it's why I can't hear anything Hazel Blears says).

But you insist on a report from the front line. It's not unreasonable. So here it is. Let me tell you, as you insist, that reduced non-peak, non-news liabilities are decreasing the regulatory burden of the statutory responsibilities of independent television in the digital handover period with regard to regional quality programming. I'm simplifying and adding structure to the raw parliamentary effluent provided by the Secretary of State, Tessa Jowell.

It is really astonishing what comes out of her mouth when she opens it. It's like ectoplasm. It may mean something, it may not. I'm a reporter not a philosopher. And of course there's my finger.

Her junior minister, Estelle Morris, gave us a glimpse of her department's vision when she told us that some towns didn't have a theatre and this was a problem because culture and theatre were central to the lives of our regional communities. She can't have meant it but she said it anyway. And there was more. She told the House that not every town had a theatre, but that the levers were there. Are you still with us? Communities, theatres, levers. "Otherwise it's like the Sixties where we built houses for people but didn't give them culture."

The fact that Ms Morris is a minister of culture shows what enormous gains anti-elitism has made in this country. We are all the poorer for it. If only because the culture they want to "give us" is part of a regulatory regime subject to non-peak quality targets.

The Speaker rose in despair. Have I expressed my affection for the Speaker recently? Grand old man, hewn out of a single block of Glasgow granite. He appealed with tears in his eyes for shorter ministerial answers. "We're in injury time, here," he wept almost openly. We shall compare scars when we retire.

Alan Johnson followed with a statement about benefit up-rating. This was a worthy successor to Ms Jowell's culture. It was unbearable, but it meant something, even though you couldn't know what. Non-dependent deductions are being frozen, for instance. That has content. The minister said that 1.7 million pensioners had been lifted out of absolute poverty by this government. It's obviously not true, but at least it's a falsifiable statement.

You will want to know that David Willetts characterised it as "a totally conventional up-rating statement". He meant it to sting all right. But not, I venture, as much as five stitches being pulled through my tearing flesh.