The Sketch: The news of the day: Harman's even duller than Darling

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The Independent Online

You don't have to be a vulcanologist to see how things are for the Government. Smoke is billowing from the vents of Mt Gordon, shocks are going off at ever-decreasing intervals, houses are falling in, the villagers are fleeing.

And that's on top of the wider seismic activity. Disappearing laptops; names of armed forces recruits, crime victims, court witnesses out there on the black market. The whole database programme must be under threat, mustn't it?

For the NHS, the children's register. The National Register. The ID scheme has already been shunted into a siding. Metronet is going to cost us £500m. The 42-day extension looks a disaster (worse, a blunder).

The Chancellor announced his capital gains U-turn to universal contempt. And Gordon Rock is just starting its second phase. And the biggest parliamentary news from yesterday is that Harriet Harman is even duller than Darling.

I say that non-judgementally. It may be useful to have someone to whom no one can quite pay attention. As she was speaking in Business Questions, the news came through to Andrew Robathan's mobile. "Hain's gone!"

She spoke on (and on) about silly business questions and then on and on about MPs' pay.

Hain gone. That must be a chunk out of the Government. His name had been given to the police and he resigned. Blair would never have let it happen. Gordon abandoned him. Of course he couldn't stay. Blair never abandoned his ministers. Bercow slid across the front bench with the news. Yes, yes, they had heard.

Harriet was cranking out her thoughts on remunerative relativities. "... mechanisms for establishing pay levels when the system is linked to non-viable comparators..."

Then Letwin came in to check. They'd heard, they'd heard. Hain gone. Under investigation by the police for criminal offences. The capital gains fiasco was the result of writing a pre-Budget report one evening to stuff the Tories. The tread of this Government is so uncertain, that's the surprise to friend and foe alike. And now Hain.

Harriet was trying to reassure her back bench that the report on MPs' pay will be published, debated and voted on by the summer recess.

Every time she confirmed it, ever more doubtful questions were asked of her – from her own side. Had the author of the report accepted the timetable to get it out in time for a summer debate? "He has accepted," she began affirmatively, "he has accepted to do the work" – which isn't quite the same, is it? And she sounded so evasive and prevaricating and hair-splitting that her assurances produced another questioner, and at the end of her five-course meal of an answer it transpired the Government only has a "firm intention" to debate the question before the recess.

They're starting to disbelieve each other. With Hain gone.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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