The Sketch: Soothing songs from the Pensions Singers to cover a monstrous fraud

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The Independent Online

I had an idea for a terrific sketch watching Work and Pensions questions. I then looked through all my other Work and Pensions sketches and saw that I'd already written it. Many times. Duty is sometimes a pleasure as well.

I had an idea for a terrific sketch watching Work and Pensions questions. I then looked through all my other Work and Pensions sketches and saw that I'd already written it. Many times. Duty is sometimes a pleasure as well.

Anyway, I can exclusively reveal (no one else would dare to do so) a growing admiration for Andrew Smith. His casting skills are substantial. He has assembled a frontbench team of such astonishing charisma, mental capacity and executive ability that he looks good against them. The scale of this achievement is incredible for anyone who has seen - or more importantly, heard - Mr Smith in action. I don't know the names of his backing vocalists - I don't think anyone does, though sometimes we pretend to. Their very anonymity must be a strategic necessity, so let's think why.

The Government makes noises rewarding thrift, yet (new fact, thank you Andrew Robathan) they have taken £35bn out of pension funds in the last five years. They tell us to save. We save. Once the money is all in one place, they swipe it. The Government snout is so fat it can hardly get into this trough but they've managed to snuffle it in at one end. No one knows where it goes at the other.

But that. Is. What. They. Do. The monstrous fraud of a National Insurance Fund (what fund?) has persuaded modern 80-year-olds that they've been saving towards their retirement all their lives. Had they put the money into their own portable, private savings account, the average member of the public would have half a million pounds in the bank by retirement age. Have they got half a million in the bank? Is the Pope a Protestant?

So the state commits this incalculable crime, time and again, over generations - and then its tiny office holders run around like cockroaches trying to make it all better. We who say these awful things are accused of "trying to destroy the democratic link between government and the governed by corrosive cynicism". And it's true!

When James Paice sat down, more than one Labour member cried: "Disgraceful!" He'd been making some political points - that is criticising the Government - over the deaths at Morecambe Bay. It was, perhaps, an unclean job, but equally someone should have done it. Mr Paice quoted the Select Committee, saying that Operation Gangmaster was designed to give the impression that something was being done rather than to do anything. Well, that sounds disgraceful, more than the writers might have known at the time. Mr Paice also asked how many deportations had resulted from the many arrests of illegal workers in conditions of squalor and horror.

Alun Michael told us 138 prosecutions had resulted. Actually, as Norman Baker later pointed out, there had only been 22 prosecutions for employing illegal workers. Obfuscation among the pious obsequies, was that not a little disgraceful too?

Mr Baker asked if there were any targets for prosecutions. Mr Michael replied, in a memorable admission of uselessness, that targets didn't help in the "minimisation of the activity" because the people involved were criminals.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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