The Sketch: The script could have been written by another Beckett

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The Independent Online

Our new Foreign Secretary excelled herself in front of the select committee yesterday.

Margaret Beckett's ministerial career is famously based on never saying anything useful, interesting or memorable. She works off a script that might have been written by Samuel Beckett, had he been interested in oligarchic functionaries as a metaphor for the uselessness and emptiness of modern life. Are they by any chance related? Here are a number of Beckett phrases we should strive to remember:

"If there is no moving forward on that point, that is presumably something that people will look at in the future."

"I think it pretty clear that where there is understanding between the two sides that is a strength to both."

"There will be areas of disagreement, even within the context of a broader area of agreement, and I think it's important we recognise the balance."

David Heathcoat-Amory asked why she was now opposing televising proceedings in Europe. He quoted the previous minister for Europe who had told the committee, "the UK objective was to push for all Council business to be open to the public". Why had she rowed back on that?

"It is not clear to me I have rowed back," she said, rowing forwards. It was a "misunderstanding". The previous minister had been suggesting televising "legislative business not legislative proceedings". Actually, he hadn't. The previous minister had been "unconditional and unambiguous". But it's just words, words, words.

Mrs B was asked about the signs of progress in the Kosovo Contact Group. She said she wasn't up to speed on it. She couldn't lay her hands on the paper.

She went on to say: "I do know that discussions are ongoing and I think there is a certain amount of progress. There are some very strong differences of view and everyone is trying very hard and I think we are hoping for a report later this year. The Special Envoy and the group are continuing to discuss it." Even though she has no idea what she was talking about she produced an answer no less convincing than any of her other answers.

Sir John Stanley hoped she would take a strong line on Israel remaining within its 1967 borders (if only to delay global Armageddon).

"We've made it extremely clear," she said, that HMG "would see any unilateral action as second best." But then, anxious to avoid sounding inflexible, she hastened to say (it took six weeks on my watch) that sometimes unilateral action could prove to be a step in the right direction, as was the case in Gaza.

Sir John Stanley was astonished at the phrase "second best" and speechless at her conflating taking Palestinian land away unilaterally with giving Palestinian land back unilaterally.

As she had said earlier: "Until these issues are resolved, the issue will continue to be a source of difficulty."

sketch@simoncarr.co.uk

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