The Sketch: The old ways are the best ways for true modernisers

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The Independent Online

Business Questions is a proxy for Prime Minister's Questions; members can ask anything they like. What happens then is that the Leader of the House says what the Prime Minister would say. Yesterday, the Leader wasn't there so the Deputy Leader said what he thought the Leader would say about what the Prime Minister would say. On hospital closures the answers were well known. If an A&E ward was closing it was because the primary care trust was saying what the strategic health authority was saying what the Minister of Health was saying the Prime Minister was saying, as the Leader of the House would have said if the Deputy Leader weren't saying it for him. Such is the long line of accountability.

When Prime Minister's Questions was introduced, Macmillan would bat away questions on education (or health, or pensions) by saying: "That's a matter for the Minister of Education (Health, Pensions)." Plus ça change: old ways are the best ways for all true modernisers.

On a point of order, Peter Lilley put a careful case to Speaker Martin. The bulbous old spud had ruled Andrew Robathan out of order the day before.

"There will be no more discussion about" the blubbering, adulterous DPM and his tiny friend. This produced a very odd position. The DPM had been 20 minutes on the radio yesterday (failing to deny he'd Prescotuted several other women) defending himself at enormous length. Thus, the Speaker had produced a situation where parliamentarians were the only people in Britain who couldn't discuss the matter.

The Speaker clarified the situation: "On the Ministerial Code, questions can be asked." But in Robathan's brief intervention he'd hardly said "Ministerial Code" before he was slapped down. The Speaker went through a variety of moods as he spoke, but I didn't discern much in the way of remorse. "I am seeking to give protection to every hon member of this House," he said, weepily. I simply don't believe he would have been as diligent in protecting a Tory in the same position (if indeed there is a globular Tory with a retractable nozzle Prescotuting through the Civil Service).

Two items: Theresa May claimed there were 400 new clauses in the Finance Bill that have yet to be tabled. The Government refuses to let them be discussed in committee. Can this be true? In our "universally valued" democracy? Four hundred clauses that may never be discussed before passing into law? Two: Keith Vaz has been appointed to the Privy Council. He was the most ridiculous minister any of us had seen, yet is a vital adornment to the back bench. Chris Mullin is the same. Some of us rise to our proper level, others of us sink there.

PS: "There is no no-do option," Des Browne strives for his place in The Dictionary of Political Quotations. He's made it.

sketch@simoncarr.co.uk

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