The Sketch: This is a minister built on a hyper-alloy combat chassis

Click to follow
The Independent Online

What a disappointment! Everything had led us to believe that the reform of incapacity benefit might be the last straw; that cunning Tory support might result in the Government's fall.

You can see how perverse the practice of politics is. Here I am thoroughly in favour of benefit reform and education choice yet delighted to see both fail if that brings down Tony Blair (whom I not only admire but prefer to any possible successor). And I don't even practise politics, I just jeer, leer and sneer from the sidelines. How much harder for them to keep some semblance of decency, of humanity, of... Hello, I've come to the end of that seam sooner than I expected.

What a bore benefit reform is. It's been run by a series of the most boring people in ministerial history. The last recognisable human was Frank Field, but he wasn't quite human, existing as he does halfway between heaven and earth. After the last election, I tried to get him to shut up about kicking defective council house families out of their homes and making them live in concrete, hose-down cages under the motorway. But he wouldn't, and now it's government policy.

So we have clever John Hutton. Very smart, very tough. The face and body aren't completely lifelike I agree, but underneath he's built on a hyper-alloy combat chassis. Goodness, how many microprocessors it took to complete him (the one doing his gesturing is a bit faulty). You have to admire him (or he'll kill you, and in a marvellously unnecessary way).

He began laying out his plans with a lively attack on Margaret Thatcher (younger readers need to know that this was a British ruler in the old days who kept children in her fridge as nourishing, mid-afternoon snacks). This roused the bench monkeys behind the minister, and dramatised for them that they wouldn't have to support on-your-bike reform but caring, sharing, inspiring reform to bring out the best in people (through their nostrils, if necessary). He may be right. I saw some statistics last week showing that half the paraplegics in Sweden are in work while here it's 15 per cent. Only governments can cause waste on that scale.

The Tory frontbench spokesman is a shadow of Mr Hutton. He's even called something like Hutton. But he does beat the minister in one crucial aspect. He is much more boring. "Can he say how the personal capability assessment will be reformed?" he demanded at one point. "Answer! Answer!" they cried (no, they didn't). He reported the results of his cross-correlation of job vacancies with incapacity rolls in order to demonstrate the glaring geographical mismatch between them. Mr Hutton terminated him by tearing him in two, right up the middle. No he didn't, I'd fallen asleep and was having a wonderful dream.