The Sketch: Politics isn't about right or wrong. It's about winning

Click to follow
The Independent Online

As this Sketch is intended to be more discouraging and disheartening than any published hitherto, let us start with happy thoughts.

Margaret Beckett, for the first time that I've ever seen, looked like a considerable sort of parliamentary figure. Energetic, forceful, and saying something. I'd never heard that before. She sounded like a politician rather than a weasel-eating member of the international committariat.

She told us that "in spite of the violence, we are seeing major strides" in Iraq. And as for an inquiry, "now is not the time". Why not? It would divert resources, encourage our enemies and further put at risk our soldiers. Parliamentary accountability, we might infer, was a form of treason. It takes some gumption to say this sort of thing without giggling or wincing at the text. But she pulled it off snappily.

Second, there was Adam Price, who gave us a belter of a speech on his Opposition day debate: a call for an inquiry into government conduct in Iraq. When you put it all together, the whole thing stinks. But you knew that. Price withstood some partisan effluent from that lanky suck-up Palmer and from Denis MacShane, and he reassembled many of the Prime Minister's most egregious evasions, elisions and downright falsehoods. The fact he'd agreed to go to war a year before he told us. And... and so very much else.

But the thing that came through as most disheartening for political positivists was the manoeuvring and party management that underlay the occasion. The Foreign Secretary expressed it thus: "Can I urge people considering voting for this motion to remember with whom they would be walking into the lobbies?"

Ohhh! It was a blow to the solar plexus for idealists everywhere. She was telling us in the most cynical way how politics works. It's not about principle or policy. It's about the company you keep. From Iraq to global warming to immigration to vouchers in schools, they change position as their opponents change theirs, to get each other on the wrong side of the argument. It's a fascinating game; but you have to be a member of the political class to play it.

PS: May I apologise to Evan Harris, whom I accused last week of not turning up to the Standing Committee where he was to "pray against" a piece of regulation we've all forgotten about. It's true that he didn't turn up to the committee, but his constituents shouldn't infer he was at the all-party parliamentary lap-dancing club below the debating chamber. He was in fact moving amendments in his name on the Charities Bill in the House itself.