The Sketch: Most Improved Minister moves from risible to useless - and that's being positive

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The Independent Online

This column has become too negative of late. No one likes that. It's all slap and no tickle. So let's be positive for once, let's be supportive and look for the best, let's be nice for once, if we can find someone to be nice about.

Tessa Jowell is secretary of state of the arts and associated occupations (such as, oh yes, football). Her friends say she is a very nice woman. She is free with her mobile number in a way that stuffier ministers aren't.

She got a fit of the giggles in the House yesterday and charmed us with the first genuine laughter that had been heard there for a year. Yes, and she's very well turned out, she has very clean hair and her Commons performance has improved relentlessly over the past year or so.

Seriously, that's the most important thing about Tessa Jowell; she's very considerably better than she was at the beginning of her ministerial career. At the outset she was risible, then she was unintelligible and now she's useless. A solid march of progress for New Labour's Most Improved Minister.

Tam Dalyell referred to the 6,000-year-old ziggurat of Ur, which American forces, "behaving like yobs", had sprayed with paint. What was Tessa Jowell going to do about it? She told the House this: "We are in the process of receiving feedback." That was not only grammatical, it almost certainly meant something.

At the outset of her ministerial career her answers resembled fridge-magnet poetry, so that was Ciceronian in comparison. She concluded: "I will take all the steps that I can so that when information comes available I will pass it on to the House." The smack of firm government from our minister of culture.

She can also make provocative philosophical statements. "We are where we are" is one. Can that be true? Are we really there? And how can we know?

The 5,000-year-old artefact known as Gerald Kaufman had denounced the Americans for failing to prevent the looting of the Baghdad museum. "What hope is there for civilised values?" he asked. And Tessa Jowell said she was greatly concerned and that we were where we were. Which is more than Gerald Kaufman will be if the looters ever raid the House of Commons.

Ms Jowell is minister in charge of the Olympic bid, incidentally. Kim Howells is her bitch. She should really slap him about a bit more. He's a minister for the arts who doesn't like art and he talked about some view being "very unique" and told the House theatrical performances in the north-west of England needed to be sustainable. He also wanted audiences to be sustainable. You would have socked him, I know. Sustainable audiences.

There's something about art that brings out the worst in politicians. They treat it like pig-iron production. They want more of it. They give money towards it. They demand theatres be opened or kept open in order that the "enormous creativity of Britons can be expressed".

Then they complain that artists can't understand the application forms sufficiently to frame their bids for public money. If that's what they spend their creative energy on, no wonder there's none left for creating art works.

There's far too much self-expression going on these days. They ought to tax it, not subsidise it.