The Sketch: The crowning glory of a beautiful sunny day: pensions questions

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The Independent Online

What a glorious day it was yesterday, with the trees blooming and the sun shining and the air as fresh as a mountain stream. And then the crowning seasonal pleasure: Work and Pensions questions in the House of Commons.

This is always exciting, sometimes unbearably so. Perhaps the ministerial team will re-announce that the level of tax credits eligibility will be tapered more gradually to bring 17 per cent more social justice to the West Midlands. Actually, I was being sarcastic. No, honestly, I was. Some cheap shots first. At the dispatch box, Maria Eagle's impression of a 1950s frump could only be improved by yellow washing-up gloves. She needs a bit of personality, the gloves could be just the thing. We claimed a victory when Sally Keeble was pushed to the backbenches, whence she contributes to debates with all the rhetorical flair of the moan in the Chandrapore caves. But the authorities are not without a sense of humour, and they replaced her with Ms Eagle.

Now then. All commentators except two on the lunatic fringe agree that the Work and Pensions front bench is the dullest in the Government. And this is for a reason. The political class's handling of pensions over the years has constituted the single greatest financial crime in the history of economics.

It is impossible to overstate the scale of the misfeasance. The only way to conceal this crime is to put Alistair Darling in charge - a man so dull that whole dinner tables have committed suicide in an attempt to stop him talking. When his talents are required elsewhere (to extinguish any interest in British transport policy) his place is taken by another - and greater - exponent of annihilating dullness.

Andrew Smith told the House: "We make no apology for being absolutely determined to progress steadily towards one of the noblest aspirations of this government." In any civilised society they would cut off Andrew Smith's head for saying things like this. The doorkeepers are armed, after all.

He was talking about the enormous progress made in eliminating child poverty. Paul Goodman pointed out that this was because poverty had been redefined to exclude housing costs, and had resulted in 900,000 children removed from the statistics at a stroke.

Karen Buck told us that 54 per cent of children in London are living in poverty. Those who pretend to know what that means must be working in the poverty industry - a source of well-paid employment, and a fast growth area. "We are making progress in London," a minister said. It's true, too. A London poverty map dating from the turn of the 19th century showed that only 34 per cent of London lived in poverty. A perfect end to a perfect day.