The Sketch: The political art of survival... Bore everyone

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The Independent Online

For those who have never seen the point of Andrew Smith, please read on. I realise how little that sentence seems to offer. And you may be put off by his chosen theme for the Communities and Local Government debate. Andrew Smith on climate change makes Al Gore look like Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

You can get a flavour of his offering from his opening words: "I have long been an advocate of unitary local government". But what's wrong with that, you ask? (Those of you fair-minded readers who haven't already torn your own head off with rage and boredom.)

Someone's got to be interested, you say, in unitary vs two-tier government. And even if Andrew's talents don't include looking good in a cocktail frock, he at least ... (I'm struggling with the end of this sentence) takes pains. He is necessary to the process. We have to have people like Andrew Smith to do the work no one else wants to do.

But the problem he's trying to resolve is one created by an Andrew Smith of an earlier generation. He is part of a self-perpetuating elite made necessary by the incompetence and idiocy of his ancestors, doing idiotic and incompetent things in order to give his descendants something to do.

So there he is, the most characteristic member of the modern political class. So dull it's impossible to engage with his ideas, thoughts or speech. We'll never get rid of him without a revolution; and then we couldn't punish him because he's done nothing wrong.

The Minister for Communities is too successful to be quite so characteristic. She displayed much of her personality by wearing a coloured top. She presides over something called a Commission for Integration and Cohesion. Her plan is to combat extremism by "reaching out better to the grass roots by building up the Government office network". It's unbearable.

Like Andrew Smith she knows how important it is to express urgency and purpose without doing anything. Plus ça change? Not quite: it's become much more important since they increased public spending (and their reach and scope) by half.

But they have discerned that they can't get away with "the smack of firm government". They know if they want to continue expanding their powerbase their greatest asset is invisibility. Thus, they've adopted a way of talking that makes it impossible for non- members of the class to understand what in the name of Pity they're actually talking about.

You doubt this? One of the most important pieces of legislation in a decade is shortly coming up in Parliament on the basis of a passerelle. There are no more than 5,000 people in Britain who could describe a passerelle, and only five of them would be what we might call "normal". Outside, that is, our increasingly invisible ruling class.