The Sketch: Pop! Quick, here's a chance to hit Prescott where it hurts

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The Independent Online

You know that Whack-A-Mole game you get in amusement arcades? A grid of holes confronts you and a little mole pops his funny little head up at random and you have to whack it while you can. That's what the Deputy Prime Minister's penis has become. Pop! Up it comes. Whack! Damn! Missed. There it is again. You've got to be quick.

It's not the original purpose of the House of Commons to be an arcade in which we play peek-a-boo with the Deputy Prime Minister's genitals. The evolutionary capacity of our ancient institution is a comfort to all Conservatives. David Heath had a whack at the mole when it popped up in Business Questions. He pointed out there was still no list of ministerial responsibilities, "though we do apparently know what the DPM is doing". Bop! Partial hit. It's gone.

Jack Straw continues to charm the House, we don't yet know why. On reflection, it's unlikely he'll be able to do anything. Robin Cook produced proposals to give a select committee career structure to back-benchers; he offered money, prestige, influence and even power. They voted against. The riff-raff. They voted against their own interests (and democracy) to ingratiate themselves with their whips. What can you do?

Eric Forth died suddenly, a week after his diagnosis of bone cancer. He was a considerable man in the House; alert, with a look in his eye that seemed humorous but was only because it was alight.

He was in fact, implacably serious, deeply instinctual and slightly feral. It was an attractive form of Conservatism, but of an earlier time. He was a Scot, but did it so well you didn't notice.

Once, when one of his leaders was spouting hectic rubbish, a government minister pointed out that Forth (a sometime education minister) advocated exactly the opposite. Forth put his tongue out like a comic baby, rolled his eyes and aimed a finger at his head, pistol-style and triggered his thumb. It was meant, I think, self-deprecatingly, but it killed Iain Duncan Thing. Bang. Dead. That was that.

His last triumph was to land a semi-fatal blow on Sir Ming. It was the Liberal Democrat's second time out as leader. "On the subject of pensions," he began (five words). "Declare your interest!" Forth heckled. He'd had time to construct this as he used to look over Ming's shoulder at the large-type notes in Sir Ming's hand.

He refused to "modernise" and sat ostentatiously in the token woman's seat behind David Cameron. But en fin, he more than anyone was responsible for the family-friendly hours of the modern Commons. The filibustering with which he kept the Government from its bed energised the counter-revolution.

Quotations from their late-night speeches (they didn't seem so funny in the morning light) were the decisive argument for early hours. That would have made him smile, I think.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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