Tony McWalter's an old Labour (indeed Old Labour) loyalist perched up there in the highland fastnesses of the remotest backbenches, brooding on the tribal history of his party. Yesterday, he managed to swoop down and stuff a bunch of thistles in the Prime Minister's pants.
"Since my right honourable friend is sometimes subjected to unflattering and even malevolent interpretation of his motivations," he said, "will he now provide a brief characterisation of the political philosophy he espouses and which underlies his policies?" The House was amazed. Those that weren't amazed were aghast.
There was laughter. Taunts. Cries of Answer! The Prime Minister opened his mouth and waited for something to come out. So did we. What was the political philosophy that underlies the Prime Minister's policies? What was he doing there? What were we doing there? Aching Nora. Philosophy. Underlying philosophy. Mr Blair cleared his throat a few times. Was the Third Way the underlying philosophy? Or was that lying more than underlying? How about The Many Not The Few? Or Social Justice and Economic Efficiency – Advanced Circle Squaring for Beginners? Or Smearing the Enemies of Progress Wins Elections? Or: Political Philosophy: It's All Bollocks? All these approaches have been trailed and trialled in their various ways.
But yesterday, Mr Blair didn't like the feel of any of them. He took a deep breath and told the House that the underlying philosophy was to bring in foreign consultants to fill vacancies in the National Health Service. Got that? Consultants. Brought in from overseas. To do the work we can't do ourselves.
How this underlying principle will translate to other areas of the public service, the Sketch leaves to humorists, satirists and, possibly, philosophers. Mr McWalter had ripped the thin skin off the Prime Minister's milk pudding and shown how little there was underneath.
Iain Duncan Smith's performance looks better in retrospect. But he too revealed the emptiness of the prime ministerial presence in the Commons. He asked if it remained a principle to sack a minister who had lied. "Yes, of course," the Prime Minister lied. Those of us who still believe Mr Blair to be a pretty straight kind of guy would have been shocked. After all, the smoke that has been billowing from Stephen Byers's pants broke into open flames on Sunday when he denied any involvement in ... if you don't know by now, you never will.
"I don't accept that," Mr Blair said. "Yesterday he came to this House and made a full statement." That was true to the extent that Mr Byers had made a statement to the House admitting he'd lied.
Charles Kennedy joined in: "Why exactly did he retain confidence in the Secretary of State for Transport? Mr Blair wouldn't say, but begged to be judged on the real issue of transport. If you insist. Train delays are up 40 per cent since Railtrack was put into administration, the air traffic control system is insolvent within months of its privatisation, London Underground guarantees its private contractors 30 years of profit without risk, and the roads are so congested everyone's got asthma. If only Mr Blair would reveal the philosophy that unites all these phenomena then we could avoid it like the plague.Reuse content