The Sketch: Tessa and her twin keep their eyes down to gamble on Manchester

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The Independent Online

The joy of Tessa. Twice in two days. She was sitting on the same bench as Harriet Harman, looking more and more sororal. Same face, more or less. Same hair. Same earnest, decent manner; same well-meaning, blue-stockinged goodness.

It's a Bogoff as they say in marketing. Buy one get one for free. Hugo Swire doesn't look like either of them but he shadows Tessa very precisely in competence. There'll be a seamless transition in the event, for those with powerful imaginations, of a Conservative victory.

But first, a short story of a tall woman. Vera Baird made a strong ministerial debut in the final sitting before Christmas. She delighted her friends and enemies with a feral display that could only be matched by a six-foot polecat. So startling was it that the Speaker intervened to chide her for her alien ways. He said he was going to guide her.

God only knows what Glaswegian guidance he gave her but she's a broken women. Mild-mannered, quiet, seemly. Not since Petruchio's triumph in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Polecat has there been such a reversal of female dominance.

She now says with sincerity, delicacy and a little rhetorical embellishment that cutting back legal aid will increase access to justice for poor people. It's not just the Speaker who has guided her; I can't imagine a pre-ministerial Vera Baird saying that.

Casinos. Don Foster for the Liberal Democrats came up with the most spirited attack on Tessa's gambling plans. Her entire plan for a system of casinos across the country, or so you'd think from listening to her, is to "protect the vulnerable". The testing, the evaluating, the regulating, the managerial guidance for best practice in spotting problem gambling, the very introduction of the casinos themselves, is all geared to protect the vulnerable from getting into problem gambling.

Her original plan to protect them included supercasinos in every region, Foster reminded us to some harsh laughter.

Foster also called for a debate on the methodology they were going to use to check the impact of these new casinos. It's a crucial point. With the right methodology you can prove anything you like. You could prove Tessa acted as one of Her Majesty's heroic ministers resisting all industry pressure, and that Hugo Swire was a powerful, penetrating opposition presence holding the Government to account.

Swire mentioned briefly that the preferred bidder for the Dome was the preferred bidder for Manchester but he abandoned what could have been a sensational parliamentary attack. He knew that Manchester had been sixth in August, ranked in terms of regeneration and social impact and that the Dome was first. He had other very damaging information to undermine the fairy-godmother goodness of Tessa's public front. But he pulled it. Why? Too much of a gent? Too much of a cloth-head? You choose.

sketch@simoncarr.co.uk

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