The Sketch: Ruth Kelly had a pre-human, ape-like grin - it was fear, I suppose

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The Independent Online

The shadow boxing between the Prime Minister and his sparring partner continues so we have the leisure to look at the world of rude flesh.

Ruth Kelly spent a good part of the Prime Minister's half hour grinning. It was an odd expression, very like a smile. But it had a pre-human quality to it, the sort of thing you see on an ape's face.

It was fear, I suppose; the survival gene makes us look like that when we sense extinction. You can't help a little fellow feeling breaking out when you see that sort of face, so I've been looking for something encouraging to say to her before the all-important statement today. So here it is. When I get down about parliamentary democracy, I cheer myself with a cracking good sitcom. Shall we send her a collection of The Thick Of It? No, the only person who could get these education reforms past the Labour back bench is John Reid (remember foundation hospitals).

Young people, I am delighted to say, simply don't have the sufficient combination of weight and wiliness that experience brings. The Kellys and the Milibands, with all their talent, loquacity and intellectual firepower - they're subalterns.

A heavy-lifting job like carrying this Education Bill through the hostile back benches - that needs seniority. That needs someone (old expression) in their prime. Speaking of which, Sir Ming retrieved something of his dignity, hooray! And the Speaker made a complete balls-up of trying to help, hooray hooray!

The stand-in stood up with a surefire way of stopping the Commons laughing at him (that's not as easy as it sounds for a Liberal Democrat leader). The jeering, snoring, barking, hooting and stupid heckling that greeted him was benign. Then he said: "Following the tragic events at Soham ..." This form of words, by ancient convention, commands fathomless parliamentary silence.

The death of constituents is an all-trumping ace on the floor of the House. So when the old booby interrupted to quieten the House on his own authority, he completely spoilt Ming's rhythm, delivery and command of the floor. The most sinister aspect is that he was trying to help. Let's hope Sir Ming is not (the very worst fate in politics) unlucky.

He asked a perfectly good question: Why is the police computer system that's to track these things three years behind schedule? The Prime Minister had no answer to that. He had no answers to the cost questions either that Cameron and Richard Bacon (Tory IT-boy) put to him about ID cards. It's such a horlicks, the ID scheme, the only thing that can be said in its favour is that it won't work.

But as Mr Blair defended it, the only person nodding (other than Gordon Brown who hates the ID idea) was Ruth Kelly. If she nods too hard her head will fall off, of course.