The Sketch: Oo-er! Mandy promises not to lose our pants

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The Independent Online

But first, the heaven of a Frankie Howerd moment. Peter Mandelson was greeted at the door of Committee Room 15 by Mr Hood (to his credit, he didn't actually bow). After a few words, our Trade Commissioner tried to move past the chairman's stomach through the Members' Entrance. Oo-er missus! Pathetic, I'm ashamed of myself. Anyway, the Commissioner is a Member of Parliament no more and was redirected down to the public end.

"It's nice to be back in a national parliament to which I am not accountable." Mr Mandelson left one of the pauses that only very powerful people can leave. The more powerful they are the less they feel obliged to say, and the greater the time they feel able to take to say it. The Mandelsonian pause lasted about as long as that sentence before he said: "But answerable." He is not accountable to national parliaments but answerable to them, you see.

Very well then: answers! It is, alas, difficult to retrieve anything said by the most powerful man in the Palace of Westminster. "What does the European Commission see as the role of the market?" Mr Hood asked. That's a state secret, obviously. Mr Mandelson said globalisation, China, India, dynamism, open, flexible, changing economic forces, social systems, regulations, benchmarks ... on and on it went. "While the political strategy may be clear and unchanged, the delivery of that strategy may be ..." On and on.

Perhaps Europe does this to people. The sprawling, bi-directional, five-dimensional multi-state sucks its administrators in and recasts them in its own image. It becomes impossible to be concise. In the course of any answer the question gets lost, then the answer gets lost. This is one reason why Europe is disconnected from its citizens. No one has the time to listen to all this.

But one Frankie Howerd answer to Lindsay Hoyle's question about Chinese underwear ("I can promise you, you won't lose your pants while I am Trade Commissioner!") reminded us that Mr Mandelson has been a hero of free trade, facing down the forces of reaction all over Europe. Is it impossible to give us any flavour of this? Is it a question of enforced modesty? Or is it just the way the powerful speak to those of us so far down the hierarchy?