The Sketch: Popularity will surge after latest chicanery

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The polls show the Government's up again even though trust in the Government is down. The more they are seen as incompetent twisters the more popular they become.

The Sketch may be responsible for this, tireless in its efforts to "reconnect the governed with the government" as the current rubbish has it. And what thanks do I get?

Michael Howard's delivery was unusually quiet, yesterday. It's unlikely he was following Tessa Jowell's riding instructions for less testosterone in politics.

No, what he was doing, I think, was varying his performance to throw Tony Blair off his tail. Our nice young Prime Minister - reasonable, considerate, intelligent, polite - is a parliamentary cannibal. He has, as it were, teeth that tear and teeth that grind. The skill with which he conceals this dentition is one of the most impressive things about him. As soon as he gets the measure of his opponent he devours him alive ignoring pleas or protests. Mr Howard has survived so far, but Mr Blair may be gaining on him.

At any rate, you might have laughed at his distinction between "people" and "workers", it was worthy of an 18th century aristocrat. "People" from the new accession countries are welcome in Britain, but "workers" are not. It's an odd distinction for a leftish fellow. It plays all right in Westminster but you wouldn't want to launch the policy in Brussels.

Mr Howard made an effort to exploit some sort of difference between Mr Blair and Mr Blunkett on the subject. He summarised his argument as: "A bold statement on the Wednesday led to big headlines on the Thursday; a climbdown on the Friday and total confusion by the weekend." That may have sounded better than it was. More successful was his news that the Government has passed a regulation allowing it to give as much money as it likes to trades unions for "modernisation", or indeed for any purpose it deems fit. Mr Howard said £10m a year was to be passed on. Why? "Because I think it's right to help," the Prime Minister said.

What a relief it is, still to be innocent enough to be shocked. The Labour Party takes £6m in donations from trades unions, and has made provision to give £10m of taxpayers money back to them. No wonder they call public spending "investment". And because this is politics, a loss of £4m on the investment is considered successful. Well it results in a net gain of £4m. But not for the taxpayer. For the party which provides us our government.

It is the most naked exchange of favours since the Ecclestone affair in which the Labour Party took £1m from Formula One and delayed changing the law to ban tobacco advertising on the race track. That affair prompted the Prime Minister to say, "I'm a pretty straight sort of guy", and the Government's popularity surged.

And after this latest astonishing, shameless chicanery, it will doubtless do so again.