Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

The Sketch: Vote Labour! Yes, that really was the message

  • @SimonSketch

It was more like a memorial service than a campaign launch. Dull, dutiful, deadly. A husk of a prime minister introduced the proposition for the local and European elections: "Vote Labour! We sacked Elliot Morley!"

It's a well-crafted message perhaps but it needs someone who can sell it. There was only one suitable end to Gordon Brown's shapeless, listless speech: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, the person you've all been waiting for! I give you...!" (Fill in a name. Any name.)

We'd seen the PM on his way to the launch marching through a mall that had been specially cleared for the occasion. He looked like the ball carrier in a gridiron game, surrounded by blockers to keep the world away.

The launch itself involved 50-odd ordinary people at lunch tables, each hosted by a celebrity – a famous address fraudster, a benefit cheat, a tax evader, several property speculators – all moonlighting as cabinet ministers. It's an interesting system we have.

Why weren't the "ordinary people" at work? Maybe they were at work, they can't have been there for pleasure. And they were anything but ordinary. Their positive, pleasant, polite questions don't exist in the natural world. They were the only 50 people in Derbyshire who were going to vote Labour.

After the PM had finished he sat down and buried his head in his notes. Too serious to look at the audience. There were questions. Sample: "What can we do to help people back to work?" He answered. His smile came and went at intervals, as if on a time switch, like those devices to persuade passers-by there's someone at home. No one listened.

Then, to show how collegiate he is, one, two, three cabinet ministers stood up to speak. Alistair Darling. The audience tactfully looked away. Darling has a property portfolio that would make Cardinal Wolsey's nose itch with envy. Then Jacqui Smith appeared on a pay-per-view basis. And then Hazel Blears. You will remember her TV appearance where she denounced herself, and angrily brandished her cheque. To be so self-righteous and so self-accusing was an amazing feat. But here's a point – she can claim that money back from the Fees Office. It was expenditure wholly, necessarily and exclusively incurred in connection with her parliamentary duties. She's entitled.

No, but the mystery remains – as PM you are trying to establish your cabinet as a model of episcopal integrity. You announce by way of example you have sacked one of your envoys because he's been found with his snout in the pork barrel. But then, immediately, you put up a threesome whom the public see as the most gluttonous trough artists in the whole sty.

Maybe the Government has somehow lost its knack? A small thought, to try out on a friend.