The Sketch: Simon Carr

Mr Blair and Mr Duncan Smith both lost. And this is precisely why ...
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It's easy to like the Tories in their current state, and even easier to laugh at them. Unless they are making a joke, of course. Iain Duncan Smith made a joke yesterday and it quite curdled all the sympathy we felt for the poor fellow. But generally we can like them, we can laugh at them, but it is impossible to admire them. They are just no good at being Tories.

In a fearful symmetry, the opposite is true for the Government. While you can't help admiring their brute administration of power, they are unlikeable, they are beyond laughter, and it is all for the same sort of reason as above: they are just too good at being Tories.

Mr Duncan Smith has a wealth of disaster to draw on, but he can't make them work for him. Why not? It's a mystery. Some things man wasn't meant to know.

The Tory leader began well: "The Chancellor has said the most efficient form of health funding is taxation. If we spend the same as Europe spends on health, will we have the same standard of health they do?" It's a cunning question which the Prime Minister made no attempt to approach. "That is precisely why," he began. He always says it is precisely why. All questions from any party are precisely why. In this case it is precisely why doctors. And precisely why nurses. It was precisely why cancer. Precisely why cardiac. Precisely why investment and reform. It was precisely why is he?

Mr Duncan Smith passed on the opportunity to say precisely whether he was or not. He is always asked whether or not he is prepared to match government spending on health. It is precisely why he will not say. He had something better. In Northern Ireland, he told the House, and in Scotland and Wales, more than 8 per cent of GDP is being spent on health and yet everything was worse out there than it was here. More resources, longer waiting lists, and lower survival rates.

Ah, but that was precisely why new frameworks. New contracts. For doctors. Nurses. Consultants. It was precisely why the Prime Minister lost the exchange. And precisely why Mr Duncan Smith lost it too. A very mysterious result, quite unlike a draw.

The pattern repeated itself in his next tranche of questions. Train delays have bounced up since the Government sent the administrators into Railtrack. Up by half in the past couple of months. An astonishing but entirely predictable effect. Almost as predictable as the Government's response.

They've stopped publishing the figures. They used to be released monthly, now quarterly. It's precisely why, surely? But the Prime Minister was shaking his head. He rose and said, "No, that's not the case." In what way it wasn't the case he didn't say. What he would say was that it was precisely why a better service was on the way and that the Conservatives were to blame.

Mr Duncan Smith then made his joke, and finished his turn in a way he has made his own: by leaning deeper into the microphone and giving each of the last three syllables a line of its own. Yesterday he told us the Government would be facing "a winter of dis.


"Tent!" Everyone laughed. Well, you had to. Mr Blair denounced the Tories for privatising rail with an unsustainably fragmented structure. You couldn't laugh at that, knowing what they're proposing for London Underground.

But Nick Gibb cheered us up enormously. His was the last and most prominent question of the day. It went something like: "Mr Speaker. I stand here having forgotten what I was going to say. Mr Speaker. The question is this. Where are my notes? Constituents and visitors. Not those notes. Hello? Why. Precisely why are people cynical about politics?" (Cheers. Laughter. Fade to black.)