The Sketch: Pots, kettles, and even an extraterrestrial encounter

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The Independent Online

The best bit in the Lords was when nothing happened. You wouldn't have seen it on television because television never shows nothing happening. The Queen of England comes into the House of Lords and sits on her golden throne (if you are getting that prickle behind the eyes, don't be ashamed) and then nothing happened. We all sat and looked at her. No music, no special lighting, no video. Tiaras twinkled a bit, perhaps. We were alone in the presence of the head of state, getting a little dreamy.

But when she spoke she said such bizarre things they were utterly incredible. They just couldn't be true. "My government's programme will meet people's rising aspirations." That was one. Her other-worldly voice revealed the essence of what she was saying. Brown's growling momentum makes you think it must mean something. The Queen's delivery makes you realise how empty it is.

The exchanges afterwards between Brown and Cameron were well worth watching. The Prime Minister excelled himself. He was so dull that the Speaker had to reprimand his backbenches for conducting private conversations. The number of gigawatts produced by the Severn barrage. And what about the sentencing framework for young people? That was going to be improved. Substance, you see. But he has an odd way of talking that sounds quite extraterrestrial. He said he would respond to a certain request "when I come to the later remarks I am making". And "those who want second chances can have them for the first time."

Cameron's attack projected his own most obvious fault onto his opponent – the accusation of spin and lack of substance. Mind you, he stood it up. The deconstruction of the Prime Ministerial pledge to "deep clean" hospitals was, as they say these days, forensic.

Then he accused Mr Brown of campaigning on lines used by the National Front (leaflet thrown on the table) and the BNP (and again). That caused the temperature to soar.

But then the stakes went too high to measure clearly: "Can the Prime Minister look me in the eye," he said on an intervention, and levelled that steady, prefectorial look across the despatch boxes, "and say that he was going to announce his inheritance tax policy before the Tory conference?"

Readers of this column will know that Alistair Darling's response to this question and the commentary it provoked caused conversations with lawyers. Darling briefed the PM amid the hullabaloo. "Yes!" The PM eventually said to vast Labour cheers and Tory outrage. In the din, he went on to say that documents existed to corroborate this as any Freedom of Information request would show.

That too is an odd way of putting it. Why do we have to seek the evidence? Why hasn't Mr Darling cleared his credibility by showing the papers to a few lobby journalists? Is it because "the documents" are standard Treasury exercises modelling different tax rates (and therefore not evidence at all)? No, it's impossible. There must be minutes and a draft pre-Budget report incorporating new inheritance tax thresholds as the Chancellor has said.

If they won't do it, I must clear their names for them. I must put in an FoI request for the minutes and agendas of the relevant meetings and prepare for humiliation. Better by far that the Sketch goes down rather than a PM and a Chancellor in one go.

simoncarr@sketch.co.uk

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