The Sketch: The manhole cover is up - out come the rats

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The Independent Online

Seeing low politics emerging into high politics, it's like seeing the drains backing up. It isn't pleasant. There's no dignity in it, no decency. No moral purpose. I love it of course, but I'm a sewerman. I forgive you if you veer away. Rather admire you, in fact.

Now, let's get that manhole cover off and dive in. Nice young David Miliband is so clearly not up to the job of Foreign Secretary you wonder why he was appointed. Ah, that's right. He was promised the job in return for not running against Gordon. If Gordon weren't an habitual bottler he would have seized the premiership after a top-up fees debacle and Miliband would be in a back room where he belongs. Mark Malloch Brown. Brought in to show how independent Brown was of America. Now Gordon is saying we're as close as ever and Malloch Brown is the butt of jokes even on his front bench. Nobody cares about him now – but they will, mysteriously, when he's been unjustly treated.

But poor young David. He looked so good in his first outings. Filled his suit. But he couldn't hold his breath and now he commits one quasi-adolescent faux pas after another. His Adrian Mole moments will form a Christmas collection next year. His supporters (if they are his supporters) say he needs time to grow into the job. But this is the second or third great office of state, not an on-the-job training programme.

His address was torn to pieces by interventions. Experienced speakers use interventions to give pace and punch to their speech but David's was shot full of ragged holes. If you wanted to know who the Foreign Secretary is, his speech yesterday would not have helped a bit.

Everybody senses it in the House. While he spoke, his colleagues sat blankly or gave small, complicit smiles to others in and above the chamber. He made several party attacks on the Conservatives, something that doesn't always work in these Queen's Speech debates.

Interestingly, the words "United States" were not uttered. Not at all. What does that mean? Was it that the Prime Minister was going big on the States later? Was he manoeuvring away from that, for some low reason?

Two things. If you're going to get away with this sort of behaviour, you mustn't let us all see what you're doing. It makes you look dishonest. Second: party political tricks not only look terrible, they usually rebound on the perpetrator. If you don't really believe what you're saying, it leaks out. People sense it. Fifty-six days detention without charge? Does Gordon really, really believe it's necessary, or is it to get the Tories "on the wrong side of the argument"? Or maybe to do what the hated Blair failed to do? If those are the main reasons, they will fail.

Then they will stumble. And that's a ghastly prospect, considering the product of those backed-up drains sloshing round our knees.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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