The Sketch: The condemned minister makes a good showing on the scaffold

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The Independent Online

Everyone assumes it's Mr Hoon's last question time and he looked as cheerful as any man could in that condition. You'll be pleased to know he made a good showing on the scaffold. Amiable, amused, sublimely irrelevant.

Accused by Bernard Jenkin of hiding behind his military advice, he said: "It is important for a minister to take advice, not substitute his own judgement." Yes, it's horses for courses, and when you get a clapped-out, knackered old nag like Mr Hoon you certainly don't want him substituting his judgement for anyone's. It's why Whitehall tea ladies don't ask him what he wants at morning break.

Mr Hoon, like the Prime Minister, denied any real knowledge of the naming of Dr Kelly. He, like the Prime Minister, was revealed to have chaired a meeting which decided to name Dr Kelly. Will they resign? They might. They might also spontaneously transmute into suggestively shaped root vegetables and make us laugh. Nothing is impossible.

The Labour backbench was quiet, but not too quiet. Their thirst for justice was eclipsed by a poll result showing their party had increased its lead. They have realised with a moan of the deepest satisfaction that they will keep their seats at the next election.

It is baffling, isn't it? The Government is shown to be full of rats, weasels and dirty dogs and their popularity goes up. The British love of animals can go too far, it seems to me.

Charles Clarke is the Secretary of State for Education; he presented a response to the inquiry surrounding the circumstances of Victoria Climbie's horrible death. It took the form of a Green Paper called Every Child Matters. This is obviously not true. For instance, if the shadow minister is to be believed, the document was capable of being published two months ago but was delayed for ministerial convenience. The minister told us six children a month are killed by abuse and neglect. This means there are at least 12 dead children whose welfare is well beyond mattering to his report.

Mr Clarke said there was an unwillingness among senior people to accept their responsibilities. That rang true. He went on to say that accountability was essential if child protection was to be "at the heart of all public services". Was it at this point the Minister of Children, Margaret Hodge, got up and left the chamber? Mrs Hodge, lest we forget, was the creature who unwittingly presided over the most monstrous cover-up of child abuse in Islington when she was that unfortunate borough's leader. She was the Government's natural choice for the portfolio: there's no substitute for experience.

Mr Clarke promised us radical reform, a complete cultural change, and a plan to enlist every family, every community, every agency of the state into the service of child protection - while reducing the bureaucracy. Yes, it's like the candy that cleans AND straightens your teeth. Of course, there'll be a massive increase in child protection officers whose only job will be to talk to other child protection officers. Most important, they'll hire statisticians to redefine child abuse deaths in some new, less horrible way: that's how new, demanding, integrated, cross-cutting child protection targets will be met.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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