The Sketch: Sorry. Without even reading it out

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The Independent Online

There was something gallant in David Cameron's return to normal service. "What a complete phoney!" he barked at Gordon, as if to signal there was no need to go easy any more. The PM was left behind the pace with a dogged sort of decency which – dammit – worked well for him. It makes him sound serious.

And how his backbenchers cheered, and called out, "More! More!" in order to show the world they can win the next election.

It's not impossible. They have 30 per cent of the polls; if they get 34 per cent at the election, Gordon Brown will still be leading the party in five years. That's the one idea that will help the Tories win.

Nick Clegg stood up at 12.17 and asked a brief question about the Stafford Hospital scandal. Had the "frenzied target setting" anything to do with the filth, squalor and fatal inattention to patients?

And Gordon apologised.

He did. He said: "We do apologise to people."

There may be no pleasing me but that was pretty low. He says every week that British soldiers killed in action will never be forgotten. But he reads it out because he can't be sure of remembering their names for five minutes.

Here he was saying: "See? I can apologise! I am capable of this saying-sorry thing when it's my fault! Not," he would hastily add, "that it is my fault! I haven't been near Stafford for years!"

He relayed some points, careful to footnote where the information had come from (so he won't have to apologise again). There were no equivalent cases anywhere else, he had been informed. Funny, I can remember a couple right off the top of my head. But he had been "assured". Tony Blair had been assured of various things before going into Iraq – and he was careful to attribute them too.

Clegg's point is a good one: bureaucrats had been ticking boxes to get foundation hospital status even as patients were suffering hunger and thirst because they were nil-by-mouth until long-delayed operations took place.

It wouldn't happen in Soweto.

Gordon said the malpractice was not reported to the board. True. Everyone has their deniability in place. That too is the legacy of Blair.

Later it was revealed the trust had reacted to the news of rising mortality in their hospital by employing more (Doctors? Nurses? Surgeons?)... statisticians. More "clinical coding experts" to change the way the data looked.

I bet they get their expert bonuses this year.