The Sketch: Simon Carr

Rouse yourself, Mr Yeo - we're discussing this year's Cow Parade
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The Independent Online

Tim Yeo's parliamentary presence benefits from a certain sexual menace. This is not to say the Tory MP is sexually menacing. That could not be said at all. The lawyers won't allow it. But he has a lazy, lounging, slightly contemptuous manner which reminds us of the portrait of F E Smith in the committee corridor.

He used to be agriculture spokesman. Now he is culture. In a pleasing but meaningless symmetry, the previous culture spokesman moved to agriculture.

Both were better where they were. But that's not important now. It wasn't very important then either, as things turned out.

Question 6 yesterday fused cultural and agricultural ministries into one: What discussions had the minister had with the organisers of Cow Parade 2002? Yes, it has come to this.

You may not know that hundreds of lifesize glass-fibre cows are to be painted and placed on the streets as a tourist attraction. It counts as cultural. In happier days it would have been counter-cultural. Now it may have more to do with sport.

But Mr Yeo decided not to integrate his disparate experience and intervene on the exchange. Perhaps he simply couldn't be bothered. It's easy to sympathise with his torpor.

Consider: What steps is the Government taking to support regional theatre in Leicester? What plans are there to promote tourism at industrial heritage sites with World Heritage status? What recent meetings has the minister had with English Heritage about giving free access to children to visit their sites?

I defy you to be interested!

Tessa Jowell is the minister in charge of culture. She is a shade less vacuous than Hilary Armstrong (you can't defy the laws of physics), but only 8 per cent as trenchant as Patricia Hewitt. It's an astonishing achievement.

Here she is talking about digital television. The project had to be possible technologically but also ought to be desirable. The demanding double, you see. Not just possible, but desirable. "So there is a job of persuasion," she told the Commons, "which is not something the Government can do". Ha ha!

Claire Ward asked what assessment had been made of the Chancellor's stimulus package after last year's disasters. Ms Jowell said it had been successful in bringing some tourists back. Feel better now? Glenda Jackson suggested to the minister that more needed to be done to persuade visitors that London was a gateway to the rest of the country. Ms Jowell said the industry had to focus on the long-term, sustainable future because that's what would bring visitors back and keep them here.

It's unforgiveable.

Mr Yeo roused himself. Stop smirking. He revealed there was a £3.5bn underspend in the National Lottery owing to bureaucratic bungling. Quite rude of him, actually. And not true: Kim Howells said it was not bureaucratic bungling. It was an effect of the hugely imaginative Lottery Commission.

Elsewhere, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams sneaked into the House of Commons to give press conferences. No-one told me or I would have gone.

There was a question I wanted to ask them. I hadn't thought about it very carefully. Perhaps it's as well I didn't go. Ye-e-es. No, it was probably just as well.

Simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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