The Sketch: There was shock, shame and secrecy. And after that, there was smirking

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The Independent Online

The charge list levelled at the Prime Minister by Clare Short can be read somewhere else. Or more accurately, everywhere else. It was pretty impressive stuff. "I'm ashamed of the UK Government," she told a packed House. That's why she was resigning. It was shame that was driving her from her post. Shame and shock. She'd been "shocked by the secrecy" of the Government drafting its resolution for the Security Council. It had undermined every assurance she'd given Parliament. That's why she was resigning.

The charge list levelled at the Prime Minister by Clare Short can be read somewhere else. Or more accurately, everywhere else. It was pretty impressive stuff. "I'm ashamed of the UK Government," she told a packed House. That's why she was resigning. It was shame that was driving her from her post. Shame and shock. She'd been "shocked by the secrecy" of the Government drafting its resolution for the Security Council. It had undermined every assurance she'd given Parliament. That's why she was resigning.

She was piling it on so fast it was hard to get it down. Her flat, monotonous voice told us of spin, control freakery, power centralised into the hands of the Prime Minister and unelected advisers. "There is no collective responsibility because there is no collective." Phew! The PM was in danger because he was "increasingly obsessed by his place in history". Crikey! That "increasingly" is a sleeper. In her capacity as Gordon Brown's agent she will have served up a cold revenge for Downing Street's description of the Chancellor as being "psychologically flawed".

The effect in the House was very peculiar indeed. As she went deeper into her list of prime ministerial defects she was greeted with muted cooing, collective gasping, soft whistles of astonishment. The Tories reacted as though the list was being written by one of their own bad authors. The Labour benches were even odder. They sat suspiciously still, the only movement an almost imperceptible nod from Gerald Kaufman and an embarrassed sort of calisthenic buttock exercise from Nigel Beard. In a pause we heard something else: a faint creaking noise rose into the gallery; it was Glenda Jackson beneath us, she was starting to smirk.

You might have thought the rebels would have given us something more to go on. They might have done a bit of sage nodding, or raised their chins wisely, they might have run round the chamber pulling their shirts over their heads. But of course all her old friends loathe her for what she became and all her old enemies loathe her for what she is. That's about everyone, isn't it?

Jack Straw had chosen the same day to make a statement on Iraq. The draft resolution they were presenting to the Security Council, he said, was word for word what the Prime Minister had said about the vital role of the UN some weeks before. His statement served the purpose of (in a Downing Street phrase) putting Ms Short's forthcoming personal statement "in context". It was the pre-spin cycle in the political wash. Challenged to come clean on when he had decided to make such a statement, he said he'd prepared it the week before but wanted to wait until yesterday morning to see whether there was a demand for a statement. "As it happened," he said, "there was." It's why we enjoy seeing Mr Straw in the chamber.

Simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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