The Sketch: Spiritual rebalancing runs foul of swine and sewers

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The Independent Online

As I'm flying over Baghdad in the next 24 hours I'm looking for generous things to say. Bit of spiritual rebalancing in case the worst comes to the worst. Like patsy questions to God. Generate some useful karma. Alas, Defra questions makes this difficult task impossible.

As I'm flying over Baghdad in the next 24 hours I'm looking for generous things to say. Bit of spiritual rebalancing in case the worst comes to the worst. Like patsy questions to God. Generate some useful karma. Alas, Defra questions makes this difficult task impossible.

Let us at least try, considering the stakes (endless fire, if what we read is right). Elliot Morley and Michael Meacher are really perfectly good at what they're asked to do. They are knowledgeable. They are experienced. They have been doing what they've been doing for quite a long time now. They are quite clean. Only four gallery correspondents can tell the difference between them. They are a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern sort of couple whose purpose in life is to keep out of trouble as far as possible.

They are very boring, of course, but they occasionally seem to be saying something. Did you know, for instance, that the Water Bill is complementary to rather than competitive with the European Water Framework Directive? Contrast this with their minister Margaret Beckett, whose ability to say nothing at all is the most potent indication of the Government's interest in rural life. To any sort of question, she will say: "What we have done is to move as quickly as we could have done while waiting for advice which we have received through keeping the situation under review for an appropriate time." The idea of her being in charge of the next foot and mouth epidemic is comic; that she oversees Britain's part in the great genocidal crime against humanity, the Common Agricultural Policy, is less easy to laugh at.

Ian Jack asked her whether the French weren't undermining reform of the CAP, and if she was building a coalition to counter French proposals? "I am anxious to make sure that all of us get the balance of our approach to the WTO right. It will be a strong area of discussion within the Council of Ministers," she said. She will pay for that, in this world or the next.

In this airless environment it is easy to forget that the Defra hour is the one that throws up the most obviously disgusting questions. Goodness knows, we deserve it. Sometimes we get illegal bushmeat imports and the sketch writers feast on maggot-infested, fly-blown, blood-soaked suitcases oozing jungle juices. Yesterday we had farrowing sows and private sewers. This conjunction made the pigs as happy as a proverb.

The MPs were equally pleased with their lot. And why wouldn't they be? We'd just had Hilton Dawson's "revolting stink" of rendering plants, and then straight into the sewers with the private pigs.

It moved John Bercow to ask: "Is there any problem known to mankind that wouldn't be worsened by nationalisation?" I fundamentally agree with Mr Bercow's question but there was that in its phrasing which immediately set me in search of ways to contradict him. He has a rare talent, Mr Bercow, and after the next election, I dare say it will be rarer still.

Simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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