The Sketch: No answers, but Gordon did show his human side

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The Independent Online

Gordon's prime ministerial persona was coming along nicely. Quiet, low, attractive I-am-a-human voice; and answering questions on the economy. "Answering" isn't quite the word, of course. "The policy we won't be following" was his theme, and the end to which every response tended. For the record, he won't be using disabled pensioners for fuel - which is to be, I'm sure he'd like us to believe, Conservative party policy.

It was all going according to plan until the Speaker told him to confine himself to government policy (it is by Michael Martin's personal heroism that this convention is now applied). Gordon started twitching, flung his thickly-annotated sheaf of Tory policy across the table between them, and Ozzy Osbourne told him he'd make "an effing awful prime minister".

You're wondering at what point I started making this up? It's all verbatim; except about the burning pensioners. But it's early days yet.

Teresa Villiers took the comfortable smile off Ed Balls's face. He'd been praising his fine regime that confiscated money from terrorists when she asked how it was that Abu Hamza was able to buy a house for £220,000 while he was actually in prison. Ed called for a mature debate on the subject, offered to meet her afterwards and bellowed that her comments were "completely factually incorrect". He wouldn't say in what way. That would be immature.

It didn't take much to nudge our Chancellor and his apprentice off their tracks; the result is certainly very watchable. You'll enjoy it.

Into the Corporate Manslaughter Bill. I heard something I'd never heard before in a standing committee. I got quite dewy about it.

Dominic Grieve and Ed Davey were pressing minister Gerry Sutcliffe on the new Bill to remove Crown immunity for various crimes of negligence (the anti-Railtrack Bill, as it were). The Government realised early on that corporate manslaughter allows ministers to be sued; that wouldn't do. Ministers are accountable to Parliament, not to the people, you see. This fact has produced some odd drafting.

Grieve and Davey pointed out in a pleasantly reasonable way that the Bill excluded the public services from its main thrust. It certainly appeared that the entire NHS and all the child protection agencies could claim immunity from prosecution.

There was much legal this and clause that, and whether "the circumstance" was part of "the emergency". And then Gerry said this thing that moved me so much: "We'll have to take this away to look at and see if it can be framed better."

Ministers habitually defend the indefensible in this forum. This was unprecedented. It was like a mature debate. I hope Gerry won't be punished too severely.

simoncarr@sketch.co.uk

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