I came late into the chamber and saw the Prime Minister laying about himself; a little raddled perhaps, by the years, but still the master of his domain. And beside him, the Chancellor looking strangely relaxed, almost calm, collegialising occasionally with John Reid (I think we've all given up on Dr Demento as a contender, haven't we?)
The "orderly transition" we were promised is well under way. But let us choke back our hot tears of disappointment and try to be generous. This transition is an extraordinary achievement considering their extraordinary past, their extraordinary characters and their extraordinary differences.
They are as different as Disraeli and Gladstone. The dandy and the man of detail. The artist and the accountant. The Lion and the Unicorn. Both proud.
Both impossibly stubborn. In the 19th century, the protagonists belonged to different parties and their rivalry was never resolved. Here they are in the same party and the one - for whatever reason - is preparing to hand over the power and the glory to his nearest, his dearest enemy.
The Prime Minister was speaking with power, conviction and enormous speed. He didn't have much to say about criminal records so said it too quickly to be comprehensible. When he plays Find The Lady with us, she stays hidden. Only one thing was clear. These tens of thousands of files gathering dust in the Home Office? That was nothing to do with him. It wasn't his fault. Nor the fault of the police. Nor of the Home Office. No, it was foreigners. Oh, if only they could be brought in to answer for their garlic-flavoured misdemeanours.
David Cameron accused him of failing to protect the public. Rapists and murderers were out there, probably working with vulnerable children, while ministers were spending four-hour lunches getting plastered in lap dancing clubs and hiring paedophiles to run childcare units. "Does this not point to a much bigger problem about the Home Office?" he asked. And he must be right about that. The Home Office is a mini-state of its own. And when the Opposition talks about "ministerial incompetence" they say it as though it wouldn't apply to them.
"This is a database failing," David Davis told us later, and listed off another string of database failings. ID cards will top everything, of course, but there's a Chinese banquet of appetising starters. But beyond the technical inabilities, Davis put his finger on a damaging question: "Did no minister ask the simple question, 'Are there omissions in the police national computer?'" Dr Demento later told us that he had indeed asked that question and had been fully answered and was at a loss to know why he hadn't been told the truth. That's quite funny, incidentally, for those of us who've never seen the Dr at a loss for anything.
PS: Lembit Opik got a Cheeky Girl cheer when he stood up. He told us that the sister was still available. He didn't give us her phone number; but I'm sure he will if you ask him.Reuse content