The Sketch: The hero with a thousand faces: our very own Prime Minister

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The Independent Online

You can't get anything interesting out of the Liaison Committee's morning with the Prime Minister. The format's wrong, the ground's too big, he's far too good at answering questions.

But as everyone who tries it finds, there's an even more fundamental difficulty in questioning him. Right in the centre of the Prime Minister's political core is a januarial, facing-both-ways quality, which makes it impossible to know if he's this, that or the other. It's a function of occupying the middle ground. He's exposed on both flanks and has to fight both sides.

Thus, as one of the MPs pointed out, 50 per cent of people think his educational policy is extremely radical while another 50 per cent think it's extremely conservative. But such is the multidimensional nature of Dear Leader. He appeals to us all because he is at once a thing and its opposite. Look - the Liaison Committee can't get anything interesting out of him and the first thing they get out of him is fascinating. He gave us an instant example of this. Greater freedom will be given to schools in their admissions policy, but they won't be allowed to select and anyway nothing is changing. That appeals to the left, the right, the radicals and the conservatives. What does it mean? Everything? Nothing? Both?

Phil Woollas put a number of points to him, demonstrating that the new specialist schools are demonstrably unfriendly to lower-income families. Mr Blair asserted the reforms were precisely to help lower-income families. But, Mr Woollas asked, what about the 60 per cent reduction in pupils eligible for free school meals in some new academies?

Mr Blair agreed passionately that it was essential we didn't have all the working class in one set of schools and the middle class all in another set ... (Huh? Are you thinking "Huh?") That was precisely why the new reforms would ...

Alan Beith got him to admit that a certain amount of legislation was government therapy "to send a signal" to society rather than, primarily, to be legally effective. Isn't it dangerous using legislation as a form of semaphore? No. Yes. Possibly. Not. Were there any absolutes, legally? No, there weren't, it was all a balance. But what about torture? Oh yes, except for torture. We were absolutely against that. And capital punishment. That too. Mr Beith had tied him deftly into knots. But because he didn't notice nobody else did either.

NB: The Prime Minister's new expression deserves a gloss. It consists of a rectangular smile and a brow furrowing in three directions. I think it denotes man of dignity puzzled at not being understood by the world but continuing to do the right thing. It's his caroline expression. That is, he got it off Prince Charles.

The closer to the end we come, the more caroline Dear Leader will look.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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