The Sketch: Oiling the wheels of our select committees

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The Independent Online

The Speaker had them all in fits with his intro. He had to slow down and pad out what he was saying with extra long words in order to finish speaking dead on the chime of Big Ben. It was Just A Minute with Nicholas Parsons, the place was roaring with laughter: good old John, no repetition or deviation from him!

Then it was midday and everyone was quiet for Cumbria.

PMQs. The Opposition doesn't do much opposing at the moment. It sits there leaderlessly while Cameron dances among them bopping this member, tweaking that nose, shaking hands with the sympathetic MP from Cumbria, talking seriously to Caroline Flint, scolding them all – quite a bit of collective scolding of them – but in a good-humoured way, and with no obviously ulterior purpose.

Labour sits there wondering how to respond without looking silly, shrill or supine. They've no answer to two multi-purpose responses: (1) "Well, you were at it for 13 years and didn't manage it!" And (2) "It would be nice to do as you suggest but unfortunately we can't pay in Monopoly money."

And then there's the other baffling thing Cameron does – on a serious question of anonymity for rape defendants he keeps saying he understands Labour objections. Then he says he wants the issues to be aired. Discussed in the House. Debated. Do you know, I wouldn't put it past him to make a free vote out of it. Labour would be skittled by that – they wouldn't know what to make of it at all.

Nadhim Zahawi's a cheerful new Tory from Stratford-on-Avon; he referred to his "beloved England" (and made my eyes prickle) before asking for the English flag to be flown over Downing St for the World Cup (it's some sort of football event).

Cameron admitted there had been cost implications but was pleased to announce that "at no extra cost to the taxpayer, the cross of St George" would fly over No 10 for the duration of those games. And he knew everyone in the UK (and here he was pulling the long Caledonian tail that wags in the House) would be cheering "Come on England!" when the time came.

It's gay to go out with Cameron, yes. Let's not worry for the moment how we come home.

Elsewhere, our constitutional enthusiasts have been exercising their new freedom – voting in secret for their select committee chairmen and women.

This piece of modernisation is held up as a trophy by our revolutionary constitutionalists, but actually it supports Lord Salisbury's Tory dictum: "What do we need change for: aren't things bad enough as they are?"

When the whips tried to oust Transport chair Gwyneth Dunwoody, they did a bad thing, but it wasn't ridiculous. Now we have 230 new MPs who know nothing of their new surroundings being lobbied on every corner by senior members groveling for votes.

Next week, 300 MPs will be lobbying the other 350 to be elected as members of this or that committee. Strangers are oiling up to other strangers so lubriciously that the select committee system will turn into a BP disaster area.

With such a cock-up on such a scale will they approach the House of Lords more carefully? Perhaps by choosing the least predicted option of leaving it just as it is?