The Sketch: Proof that you can find a fantastic sob story - and still lose

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The Independent Online

Michael Howard produced a sob story for the Prime Minister. It worked on me but I'm a sobber. An old lady with a bad heart and a 50 per cent chance of surviving her operation had said goodbye to her family, just in case, gone off to the hospital where her operation was promptly cancelled - seven times. Eight years of Labour, billions gone in, why in the name of pity etc.

Michael Howard produced a sob story for the Prime Minister. It worked on me but I'm a sobber. An old lady with a bad heart and a 50 per cent chance of surviving her operation had said goodbye to her family, just in case, gone off to the hospital where her operation was promptly cancelled - seven times. Eight years of Labour, billions gone in, why in the name of pity etc.

It is a tribute to the Prime Minister's powers of argument that he ended this exchange to the biggest cheer he's had in months. He made Mr Howard say defiantly (defying, that is, 50 years of Tory philosophy): "We will increase the investment!"

We can forget how much Tony Blair has changed the political debate. He announced on television that he was going to bring health funding up to the EU average, and he got the public to vote for the tax increases to pay for it. That wasn't Gordon; that was the Prime Minister bouncing Gordon into it.

Then for good measure he smashed the Tory leader into the back wall. "He's going to take a billion pounds out of the health budget and give it to people to pay for half their operation but only if they can afford to pay the other half! How is an old age pensioner living on the pension going to afford it?" Cheers, waving, yodelling.

Astonishing. I'm entirely in favour of the Tory policy and don't think it goes far enough. I had no answer for Mr Blair but much more important, neither did Mr Howard.

Compare and contrast these powers of argument with Mr Howard's. No one knows how to lose parliamentary support more quickly. When he referred to the Government's Terror Bill he used the words "which is why 60 Labour MPs voted with me". Had he flung a handful of his own waste the Labour rebels would have displayed less visceral disgust.

The rhetorical opposition is going quite well. The Liberal Democrats ("passionately opposed" to the Bill) could have defeated it in the Commons but they were passionately opposing it in their marginal constituencies.

To European Standing Committee B, then, for light relief. The EU accounts were under what they call scrutiny. Ninety-four per cent of the accounts weren't discharged and they suffer from endemic fraud; no one knows how much. It's been like that for the past 10 years. Three Labour backbenchers (one of whom spoke) and one lone Tory considered this extraordinary scandal.

Minister Stephen Timms (who makes Geoffrey Howe sound like Adolf Hitler invading Russia) declined to make a fuss - it would "hinder the process of improvement".

Democracy, we know, is a sacred flame. But this oligarchy of ours has its merits as well. It too deserves celebration, and more than three celebrants.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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