The Sketch: 'Speaker' found alone in the mud

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The Independent Online

Politicians shouldn't wrestle with pigs, the adage goes. They just get covered in mud, and the pig enjoys it. I certainly enjoy it. Geoff Hoon looks as though he's enjoying it but as a constitutional lawyer it's very unlikely he enjoys anything, let alone mud-wrestling.

He rises as Leader of the House for Business Questions. This is a weekly therapy in which MPs ventilate their feelings. The Leader's constitutional role is to make sympathetic noises, and speak up where possible for the House of Commons. He isn't supposed to issue piffling party political propaganda, as Nicholas Winterton pointed out, unsmilingly. It was most unwelcome for us purists and jurists to descend into Mr Hoon's sewer.

There was no need for him to launch a personal attack on nice young Teresa Villiers: "What a lamentable performance from someone who apparently aspires to run the British economy!" he cried. And then he went to attack Oliver Letwin. Among Oliver's cornucopian faults there has never been a suggestion of dishonesty or even impropriety so this was the lowest form of abuse.

He (Oliver Letwin) "will no doubt be declaring his considerable interests when he gets up to open the debate, having refused to abandon his connection with the city ... so we are not going to take any lectures about interests."

This was the First Law of Politics in action (always accuse your opponent of your own most obvious fault). When the government is overtly selling places in the legislature, the worst form of defence is to attack Oliver Letwin for having a proper job.

As to defending the rights of the House? Many questioners asked why the Minister of Health wasn't featuring in any of the Budget debates, an amazing absence. He had no answer for that. And as to ministers making announcements to the media before letting Parliament know? He had no answer to that either. He told Tim Loughton: "He's answered his own question", and remarked that David Heath was naive because he believed what he'd read in a newspaper (the only way many ministers have of communicating with their backbenchers).

Mr Hoon didn't notice that we swine had gone in for a shower and he was alone, wrestling in the mud all by himself.

NB: It may be that Sir Alan Haslehurst is opening a subtle campaign to succeed the Speaker. He is getting through the order paper at an unprecedented rate. This week he got right through to the last questioner on Wales questions - and over-ran the end on PMQs.

It's hard to campaign ethically for the Commons' highest office, but Sir Alan may have found a way to do it. The proposition for MPs is: Vote for me and you're more likely to be able to speak. If you can get any odds, I'd bet on him.