The Sketch: The law of blunkettry - or why nothing turns out right

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The Independent Online

Watching the Business Statement yesterday, the great epistemological question of politics presented itself. Does anyone know what the hell is going on? David Blunkett's diaries have answered that question (along with several others). The answer is: no, they don't.

In the muppetry of modern cabinet government, blunkettry is a useful concept to explain why nothing ever turns out as it should. Nobody knows what's going on, and for a significant but indeterminable proportion of ministerial time, they don't want to know.

Take the questions that were asked yesterday. How many helicopters do we have available to send to Afghanistan? The minister of Defence didn't know but nor does anyone else. If they did know, it would put the Prime Minister in an embarrassing position.

How long are terror suspects being detained before being charged? The data isn't kept. Vulgar facts would pollute the 28-day debate.

How much have the dozen or so NHS reorganisations cost? No one even attempts an answer to that. That needs quantum maths to calculate numbers so imaginary that the square root of minus one is as solid as Monday.

Earlier, Dominic Grieve had asked about the "very serious scandal" of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. It has emerged that in one of these secret trials, false information was laid against an accused by the Home Office.

If the idea of false information in a secret trial strikes you as unBritish, how worried should you be? It's impossible to say. Mike O'Brien said it wasn't a systemic problem, just a particular one. But how does he know that? And the answer is Blunkett.

George Young asked whether they shouldn't be debating Iraq and Afghanistan instead of whether the House should debate in September. He wasn't able to say what difference September debates would make; if there was an answer it was deep in the blunkettry.

John Bercow railed against some genocide happening somewhere or other, finishing with the words, "futile exercise in moral posturing". This too is a consequence of 650-odd MPs blunketting about in public life.

The veil question came up. It puts us liberals in a very difficult position. Those of us who agree with Jack Straw find it difficult to do so without setting off down that path that ends in ID cards. We don't want to argue against the veil "on security grounds", or even via the same laws that prevent us wearing ski masks into banks, as Robert Gillan pointed out in Letters yesterday.

How about this: if women can wear veils because Islam tells them to, can I mock Islam for encouraging them? If veil-wearing is to be defended to the death, what about Prophet-mocking? I don't think there's a resolution to this question short of global religious war (it wouldn't be the first time, after all).