The Sketch: United only in despair – even Brown's fan club is giving the last rites

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The Independent Online

"He's had it. He's finished. The Prime Minister is complete blown chaff," Bob said. "All my colleagues think so too. For the first time in my life I've seen them united. They are united in despair."

Bob Marshall-Andrews has always defended the PM in our conversations over the years. He's turned aside my nasty insinuations. Told me what a good man Gordon is, fundamentally, a decent man. This is quite a change of mood. "You don't want your name attached to these remarks, I take it?"

"God, yes!"

So there we are.

It was the expenses debacle. The reason we hacks were circling vulturously round the gallery all Thursday afternoon was to see George Young's amendment get carried. Gordon lost the Ghurka vote the day before. If he lost his expenses initiative the day after, it would be quite a dose of septicaemia into the old boy's bloodstream.

To recap. Or rather, to recap the rumours. Weeks ago, Gordon was given notice that his Cabinet had been short-selling RBS shares and funding their internet subscriptions to Girls' Boarding School from their parliamentary allowance. He had already passed the responsibility for reform to Christopher Kelly's committee but in the light of these wanton reports he felt he had to be seen to be doing something.

He recorded a YouTube clip with a wild and whirling proposal to repackage MPs' accommodation allowance as a daily fee for turning up to work. It was ridiculed by all so he decided to put it to the vote in Parliament. Then, realising he'd lose, he pulled the daily bonus proposal from the package.

George Young's amendment challenged the Prime Minister's authority further by saying everything should be left up to Sir Christopher Kelly. Gordon realised he'd lose that as well.

It was left to Harriet and the Speaker to sort out. The Speaker selected Sir George's amendment, and Harriet... endorsed it. She did what? She said the Government was going to vote for it. Sensation!

Douglas Hogg heard the words but couldn't process them. How could the amendment be passed and yet the debate continue? If everything was to be left to Kelly, what was there to talk about?

Harriet told a bubbling House that although she didn't want to interfere with Kelly's committee there were nonetheless things they could decide right here, right now. It was the purest form of double thinking forked tonguery.

She delivered it with complete composure, as if to say: "I know it's a scam, but it's not my scam. The Prime Minister is in a hole and I've been asked to help him out of it – which as you see, I have not done."

That at least was very prettily managed.