The Sketch: Reid has nothing to say, so he says something stupid

Simon Carr
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The Independent Online

Because they had nothing to say, they had to say some very stupid things.

Let's not jump to conclusions, for instance. Former spy dies in agony of poisoning from a synthetic radioactive substance normally obtainable only by national governments ... and the most important thing is not to rush to judgement. It could have been anything. A game that got out of hand, for instance. Maybe that restaurant was trying out an irresponsibly-strong wasabi. It was essential not to behave like the lurid media and assume he was murdered. Or even that he was killed.

No, the most important thing was steadiness. So, John Reid told us at enormous length he couldn't, obviously, tell us anything. Not even whether there would be a post-mortem. The coroner has yet to decide that. He'll be acting on advice from the Health Protection Agency. (In which case he should be sacked.) But the police would behave magnificently, that was the only thing that was certain. They would investigate without fear or favour. Not that there was anything to investigate.

Yet, as David Davis pointed out, the emergency committee Cobra had met. Wouldn't that have suggested something out of the ordinary? No, no, no. Cobra hadn't met in urgency, and not because there'd been a suspicious death. No that was more of a social thing. Drinks. A few canapés. Some spitting. "We milked our poison sacs into the punch." It's that time of year.

David Winnick was one of the few to speak anything less than political class twaddle. He thought it would be odd not to be suspicious, considering the number of dissidents the Russian secret service were killing. Denis MacShane would have found that contemptible scare-mongering. Chris Bryant noted the Russian media were demanding extradition of dissidents who'd gained asylum in Britain. And Ben Wallace (ex-security service himself) asked whether the dead Russian had ever asked MI5 for protection. That gave the Home Secretary pause (and by God the man relishes a pause). "Not to my knowledge," he said carefully.

The Home Secretary assured us the police would go wherever their investigations took them. Even to the North Pole, where Islamofascist elves are selling black market radiation.

It was a Treasury debate after that. And John Reid stayed, provocatively you might think, shoulder to shoulder with his other senior McMinisterial colleague and rival. When George Osborne referred to the "big, clunking fist" that the PM had ascribed to his successor, John McMinister chuckled and guffawed and attracted attention to himself, very much at the expense of McMinister Gordon.

By such playful indications are we given to believe that he is biding his McTime.

NB: The Home Secretary came up with a wonderfully evocative Scotch word. "Apprissyates." "I'm sure the hon. Member apprissyates." It suggests dressing up in a 1950s cocktail frock. Or is it me?