The Sketch: Simon Carr

New parliament starts up with a pitiful splutter
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The Independent Online

This is the first new parliament the Sketch has witnessed: is it always like this? The gallery looks down onto scenes of subnormality that 18th-century voyeurs paid good money to gloat over. There is no elation down there at a historic election victory. We see just a squad of tired paranoids who know they won't be able to deliver on their election promises and who want to go home.

This is the first new parliament the Sketch has witnessed: is it always like this? The gallery looks down onto scenes of subnormality that 18th-century voyeurs paid good money to gloat over. There is no elation down there at a historic election victory. We see just a squad of tired paranoids who know they won't be able to deliver on their election promises and who want to go home.

Party managers have decided not to repeat the mistakes of their first parliament – a stream of meaningless initiatives issuing from ministerial mouths like ectoplasm. Unfortunately, the management hasn't come up with a substitute. Ectoplasm has an almost fascist structure compared with what ministers are now producing.

We shouldn't laugh. I'm not laughing. I know you're not. The Home Office team on Monday and this lot yesterday – the new Transport, Local Government and the Regions Ministry – have provided a pitiable spectacle. If you were interviewing any of these people for the post of executive director in a £400bn company – for that is what they are – you wouldn't think of considering the possibility of suggesting that any one of them deserved an interview.

Their application would be returned with a note advising them that if they ever got in touch again they would be reported to the police.

Consider the new Housing minister Sally Keeble. It was her first outing. We shall make allowances for this. It would be less than charitable, less than fair to do anything else. But we still have room to observe that for intellectual dash, political vim, and parliamentary presence you'd appoint a Speak Your Weight machine to run a department before Ms Keeble.

She makes us grieve for the absence of Hilary Armstrong, once local government minister, who has left her department for higher things (Chief Whip). God, how we remember her basilisk stare and command of her department's impenetrable language.

For instance: Derek Foster lamented the 44 cases of foot-and-mouth disease in his constituency, and the hundreds of farms that had been culled. He asked for substantial sums to market the area as a tourist destination. Ms Keeble's answer, in its entirety, went: "Um. The tourism summit I referred to also actually looked at the impact of foot-and-mouth on tourism. Can I also say that I have actually visited the honourable gentleman's constituency and seen quite a number of the farms and different beauty spots there and I would agree that it is certainly an area worth visiting and deserving of support."

This is the parliamentary equivalent of "Ugga ugga ugga ugga ugga ugga and now sit down. Oh sorry, I shouldn't have read out that last bit."

Hilary would have said broadly the same but phrased it expertly: Centralised models of outreach can lead to inadequately targeting the money where it is most needed to take people up a learning curve moving from preparatory stage to implementation by reskilling, reinvesting and carrying out a comprehensive review evaluating existing successes so far where the forthcoming White Paper will draw together the broad range of current thinking of the partnership charter with no party sacrificing autonomy to the centre.

It's not all Stephen Byers' fault, but he is the department's senior minister. He was invited to accept responsibility for Railtrack. He did. And he instantly passed the buck to everyone else in the industry whom he had denounced for buck-passing.

That nice young Peter Mandelson pitched in with a timetable for implementing regional government. His fine, long face was angled backwards and an air of ancient melancholy hung about him. There on his back bench he looked like (this phrase was first aired in an Australian parliament) "an Easter Island statue with an arse full of razor blades".

But he wasn't the only one hung with melancholy. Not by any means.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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