The Sketch: Simon Carr

Prescott a victim of verbal slurpee? Now that is clear
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The Independent Online

Angela Browning once questioned John Prescott when he was standing in for the Prime Minister. She asked: "The Chancellor's five tests for joining the euro. What are they?"

It was like putting an egg whisk into Mr Prescott's head and turning it up to "thrash". The Deputy Prime Minister opened his mouth and weirdness poured out; it was like watching ectoplasm swirling into the chamber.

Yesterday it was Michael Ancram's turn. Would the Deputy Prime Minister confirm, he asked, that it was an objective of the war in Afghanistan to remove the Taliban? This produced a slurry of verbal slurpee that Prescott-watchers will treasure for many years.

"Our objectives are clear," he said. "The objectives remain the same and indeed it has been made clear by the Prime Minister in a speech yesterday that the objectives are clear." Is that clear? The clear objectives are clear and that's been made clear by the Government, perhaps under clarity targets set by the Cabinet Office (which Mr Prescott heads).

He continued with a clarification to clarify the clarity of what he was clarifying. "And the one about the removal of the Taliban is not something we have as a clear objective [prolonged laughter] but it is possibly a consequence that will flow from the Tallybin clearly giving protection to bin Laden and the UN resolution made it absolutely clear that anyone that finds them in that position declares themselves an enemy and that clearly is a matter for these objectives."

Mr Prescott is a natural obfuscator, which is why he's no good at it. When you're saying nothing it's important that it sounds like something, and that takes as much art as artifice. For instance, Mr Blair said yesterday: "The end we have is this: al-Qa'ida shut down in Afghanistan; the Taliban regime out." That's clear. So clear that he may not mean it at all.

Maybe Mr Prescott is right after all, and the war aims have indeed changed.

Tory Tim Collins had described him earlier as the most honest member of the Government. Maybe that was what he meant.

Alan Beith, for the Liberal Democrats, noted the Government's U-turns on Railtrack, cannabis, asylum vouchers and student fees, and asked: "Is Labour's second term going to be devoted to undoing the more misguided policies of its first?"

"Change things wrong so it is that we feel we look we whether it's working implemented new policy then we act proper advice cannabis or the things of student financing." Rearrange Mr Prescott's words into a well-known parliamentary answer and find out what the war aims really are. Let me know if you do.