The Sketch: Roger Mellie and Harold Shipman's Libyan link

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The Independent Online

Douglas Alexander came to the Commons as the new shadow Foreign Secretary. So shadowy a position is it, you might not be able to name the person he replaced.

He is the Scottish son of a minister of religion. A popular sort of figure in the Labour Party, then? Yes, until the other Scottish minister's son selected him to carry the can for the election that never was. For that reason he switched from Old to New Labour and supported David Miliband until David lost and now – can still firmly in hand – he's on his way back from New to Old, and who knows where from there.

In yesterday's brief pause on his journey, he asked two unmemorable questions, one of which established that a written answer had already been lodged showing that the British taxpayer was contributing £2m less a year for anti-narcotics money in Afghanistan.

This was the second bite at a poppy new Labour MP Toby Perkins had already had a go at.

Can we pause for a moment on the subject of Toby Perkins? He has a huge body and a tiny head with sharply defined features. He owned a Midlands sports shop, became an MP and now has opinions on – or at least asks questions suggesting he has knowledge of – the effect of public spending on bond yields, the interaction of public health policies on private behaviour, the relationship between farm economics, ancestral tribal allegiances and religious ambitions in the south of Afghanistan. It wouldn't matter but he looks exceedingly like Viz's Roger Mellie The Man On the Telly, and probably knows as much.

Paul Flynn asked if British casualties in Afghanistan had been worth it to support "an election-rigging President who refuses to arrest his corrupt brother, a Vice-President caught smuggling $51m... or government cronies who have stolen 70 per cent of his country's GDP"? Nice Alastair Burt, Under Secretary at the Foreign Office, used his dormouse voice to say he couldn't discuss "individuals".

Pauline Latham set up the Lockerbie bomber question nicely by asking whether we were going to send any other NHS cancer patients to Libya where the survival rates were so much better than here. She deserved the laugh – and got the useful answer that the Megrahi report is being written and will be released. Will it confirm that we traded Megrahi for Libyan contracts? Probably not quite. But it may make British citizens grateful Harold Shipman didn't own an oil well.



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