The Sketch: Millions on spin won't save Harman from a kebabbing

  • @SimonSketch

The fragrant figure of Hatbox Harman floated in at the end of Defence Questions. She must have been looking for inspiration. What her defence is going to be no one yet knows. The 40,000 that was undeclared in her campaign for the deputy leadership of her party is, on the face of it, indefensible. For a week now she's been slowly turning on her personal spit, and it looks very much like she will end up as the first Donor Kebab.

And how will her husband, the Treasurer of the Labour Party, plead funding ignorance for the third time in a row? "I am simply too stupid to realise what was happening!" Would that work? It has the merit of being credible. But I'm a rotten spin doctor.

And that's a shame as there are rich pickings in that growth industry. We learnt that 338m is now spent on press officers in the Civil Service. Andrew Selous told us that 2.3bn was spent by the Government on "outside consultants". Hard choices, you see, isn't that what politics is about?

But when Des Browne chides the Tories for demanding three new army battalions costing 700m you might wonder which group of people represents greater value for the British state. Oh, the press officers, of course. But for the nation? Obviously the opposite.

Des took a bit of flak for being a part-time Defence Secretary (he does Scotland as well, in the evenings). Tom Levitt sprang to his defence, saying we should all thank him for doing two jobs for the price of one. I used to take cheap wine to dinner parties saying, "It's not very nice but there's an awful lot of it!" (I told you I hadn't the talent for spin). And who exactly pays for Des the Defence? Julian Lewis has been working away at this question, in the dark (his natural habitat). Getting no answer on the floor of the House, he discovered from the Cabinet Office via the House of Commons Library that his ministerial salary is paid by the MoD and none of it comes from the Scottish Office. Well done, Julian Lewis. If he looked a bit different he'd have a big future. Given the right voice coach. And a I won't go on.

So if our brave boys are paying for a Scottish minister, why can't the Scottish Office return the favour and buy a few helicopters? They'd be quite helpful in Afghanistan. But I mustn't give encouragement to the enemy. Des told the House that every word in Parliament was scrutinised by the Taliban (they must be the only people in the world listening to James Plaskett on the Child Maintenance And Other Payments Bill).

He told us that questions about not having enough helicopters would "undermine" "troop protection". The Tories are therefore guiltier than Philby and carry the blood of British soldiers on their hands.

That's what party politics is about, at least.