The Sketch: Remember, it's the likeable ones you have to worry about most

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The Independent Online

A colleague scourged me over lunch the other day. We both quite enjoyed it. The scourging, I mean. He said it was for the unremitting negativity of this column.

A colleague scourged me over lunch the other day. We both quite enjoyed it. The scourging, I mean. He said it was for the unremitting negativity of this column.

With a catch in his throat Christian begged for something nice to be said about someone, just once. "Back off, cloth-ears," I replied in my most courteous manner, "I'm always saying nice things about them."

And it's true. Just last week I called Yvette Cooper clever and admired our Prime Minister's tactical abilities and said John Prescott would go nicely with a bit of apple sauce. Looking back through old sketches I've complimented characters as diverse as Alan Milburn, Gordon Prentice, Kelvin Hopkins, John Reid and Tories too obscure to have names.

But it's true I am ideologically against the set-up. A stray remark yesterday reminded me why. Solicitors have, apparently, been given £450m to pursue "white-finger" claims (it's an occupational disability heavy machinery workers get). The torpor of Trade and Industry question time remained undisturbed. No one noticed or said anything or reacted as if it was unusual. Four hundred and fifty million! Watching our politicians spending money is like watching a seven-year-old trying to direct a fire hose.

Think how much chicken-in-a-basket that would buy the world's hungry. And while we're on the subject of holocausts, you might think that the Department of Trade and Industry might adjust our tariff structure - not to give preference to developing countries, but to allow them an equal chance to sell their manufactures to our fat, rich, spoilt, overpaid population.

Ah, but that's more difficult than it sounds. Of course, it's essential we do exactly that; however there are protocols to abide by. But everyone agrees absolutely that trade must become freer, even while it becomes more regulated.

How shall we deal with this paradox? "We shall keep it under active review." Patricia Hewitt has pointed out that non-tariff barriers are replacing tariffs. That is, we won't accept certain goods from overseas with, say, aflatoxins at a level that would save 1.3 lives per billion (there aren't a billion consumers in the European Union). That's not us, is it? That's them. That's not people doing that, it's politicians.

But returning to the positive. I always thought Des Browne, the new minister for immigration, was a bit of a dud. But in standing committee, pushing the ID cards Bill through, he comes across in quite the opposite way than in the House. Competent, clear and even likeable (mind you, being likeable is at primary skill level 1 for politicians).

I caught a glimpse of him in action yesterday. The clause about whistleblowers. They're to have no statutory protection. If they find an egregious abuse of the national database they will only be allowed to approach an independent commissioner, not The Independent.

So, if it's not too unremittingly negative, remember it's the likeable ones you have to worry about most.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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