The Sketch: Too many reviews, no time to argue

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The Independent Online

Good grief, the Prime Minister's bad at arguing. He just asserts things. And any old thing that comes to mind. I'm going to invite him home and let him win an argument with my... I'm not sure exactly... if I turn my food processor on to medium, he'd beat that, you'd think? He'd keep up, at least?

When Nick Clegg asked him why he wouldn't act immediately to stop the scandal of 5,000 schools fingerprinting children he replied: "People in this country are reassured by the presence of CCTV."

That was the answer to both of Clegg's questions (neither of which mentioned CCTV). Clegg referred to the 1,000 intercept requests a day, the one million innocent people on the DNA database, and the fingerprinting of schoolchildren and twice the PM (moral compass spinning) demanded to know if the Liberals supported CCTV.

Harden your hearts, fellow citizens, pity is not the right reaction.

But first, there had been Cameron. Oh, we shall miss him when he is no longer leader of the Opposition. How many "reviews" has the PM commissioned since his assumption? Obviously he wouldn't say. "The answer is 52. One every four days," Cameron laughed. "No wonder he hasn't had time to open his post." He went through these reviews. "Reading!" Chris Bryant called out. "You have to, it's such a long list," Cameron replied without a beat. Bryant made a wet noise as the slap landed.

"Too many soundbites, not enough substance!" Gordon replied with a soundbite prepared a month ago. By Ken Clarke. "He's had weeks preparing his soundbites and they're still rubbish," Cameron taunted. It doesn't look exactly Corinthian but it had its own momentum there in the chamber. And it did come straight off the bat.

The PM's reviews aren't dithering, quite; they're Gordon's preferred alternative to Green Papers. Without the nuisance of parliamentary input. They're the opposite of dithering in a way: Gordon knows what he wants said, he appoints the people who will say it, and he can float proposals without risking the blame if they're unpopular. That's what modern leadership is.

Peter Lilley referred to the "line-by-line" promise the PM madeon the Lisbon Treaty scrutiny. It's turned out to be the most cynical manipulation of Parliament for party purposes. Not a word of the immigration, asylum and border controls has been seen by the Commons. Brown said that the House was considering it "day by day".

Brown's soundbite is: "We are long term, they are short term." But maybe they really are "day by day". If he is the king of long-term thinking, how come he nicked a non-dom tax proposal from the Tories one week, announced it the next and is suffering the second big disaffection of the City?