The Sketch: No voice, no force, no penetration - so farewell Portillo

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The Independent Online

William Hague should be deselected. Who in the name of our sweet, suffering saviour does he think he is? And what in the name of (see above) does he think he's doing? Is he an MP or an all-round entertainer using the Conservative Party as his business headquarters? Are after- dinner speaking and business consulting what he was put in Parliament for? For what particular activities does he draw a salary? Is he following that famous precedent when Edmund Burke said to the electors of Bristol: "Back off, boneheads, you don't know how Parliament works, let alone how expensive retirement is."

Apart from anything else, Mr Hague owes Michael Howard one big, fat favour for having reneged on an undertaking to stand as Mr Howard's deputy in 1997. But no, he thought he'd stand for leader in his own right. That worked well, didn't it?

The other no-show, Michael Portillo, has at least done the decent - and therefore the least likely - thing by announcing his resignation. He might at least have lent a hand by taking a shadow position equal to his abilities. Standing up to Tessa Jowell in Culture questions, that's Portillo's level. The reputation he acquired, no one knows how, was that of "big beast", but he never looked like one of those in the Commons. No voice, no force, no penetration and ridiculous lips - like a long pair of buttocks, such as you might find (since we're in Culture questions) on a Modigliani Maya.

Yes, Mr Portillo would have made a perfectly good job of holding to account, Labour's Fiordiligi and Dorabella - for Estelle Morris has joined Ms Jowell to govern the culture of our country.

People have been unkind to these ministers, but it hasn't been funny or clever. The Sketch will have nothing to do with it. They have the one, overwhelming merit of not being the character who plays Richard Caborn (I think the understudy was on yesterday; needs more rehearsal).

Michael Fabricant teed the Government up for some confident repartee. He mentioned that there were several thousand human remains kept in Britain ("On your back benches" Labour humourists called out more than once, for those of us who hadn't understood it the first time). Mr Fabricant went on to note that the 159-page report on the matter has been criticised by the Natural History Museum because no remains will be repatriated. "So where are we now?" he asked. Fiordiligi (or possibly Dorabella) provided a crisp response: "The Honourable Gentleman is on the bench behind the front bench. So that's where he is." There was very little more to say, and so she said it.

Other admirable members - John Denham and Frank Field - asked if pubs whose primary purpose was to get people drunk as quickly as possible (well, we're all very busy) should help to pay for some of the policing that results.

Dorabella (or perhaps Fiordiligi) said the new licensing regime was but one tool. That there were powers. That children had to be protected. That she hoped to visit Birkenhead. That there was an appeals mechanism. And that it was a question of balance. And that's culture. Cosi fan tutte.