The Sketch: Tories move stance from loyal opposition to nagging spouse

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The Independent Online

Politics is so mysterious, no one knows how it works. It is, in fact, unknowable. How else could political commentators make such confident livings?

In Prime Minister's Questions two weeks ago Tony Blair made his astonishing admission. He said he hadn't known what the "45-minute WMD" actually were before he came to Parliament with the case for war. Many of us didn't believe he was telling the truth. Those of us who tried to believe him felt him guilty of criminal negligence. Amid all other uncertainty everyone knew he was very seriously wounded. His casus belli was in disarray, his integrity deeply questioned, but - or so - interest in the whole issue imploded. "Imploded" is too dramatic. The issue evaporated without the ghost of a sigh. Downing Street told us the issue had become boring - and we believed them.

The collapse of the Tory party may have some distant effect on this (they haven't realised they have 12 years and two new leaders to go before they form another government). They have accepted Labour's settlement of tax and spend, and thereby swapped their role of a loyal opposition to one of nagging spouse. On the day 500 consultants went public with a more-market system of public health insurance (nothing could be better Tory policy) Michael Howard pointed out that Mr Blair's random drug testing policy in schools had already been announced by Charles Clarke. It's a point in its way but, in the scheme of things, insignificant.

PMQs was so lacklustre the Liberal Democrats dominated it. Scoop your brain off the floor, rinse it off and replace it, and admire Charles Kennedy's sally. He got a virtual admission that the Government was negotiating with countries other than Tanzania to set up holding camps for asylum-seekers. It's the latest thing. Like rich countries trading emissions with poor countries we're to, in Mr Kennedy's words, set up a global trade in displaced persons. Mr Blair said it was an "absurd idea". It may indeed be absurd but in the absence of a denial ("absurd idea" is a construction Mr Blair uses to signal an imminent announcement) it's practically on the books.

Tom Brake, the Lib Dem MP, asked about the different export regulations for weapons components and weapons systems. He implied the Government was supplying the wherewithal for Johnny Foreigner to blow up the Houses of Parliament ("Come on if yer 'ard enough!")

Finally, Bob Russell gloriously compared the 1,343 council houses New Labour has built in its first seven years with the 365,000 council houses Mrs T built in the same period. Perhaps when people refer to Mr Blair as Thatcher-lite, this is what they mean.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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