The Sketch: What does a mutation of rats produce? A bad joke of nodding dogs

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The Independent Online

Messrs Prescott, Brown and Straw formed a de facto conspiracy last week by being conspicuously absent when the Prime Minister was present. Yesterday they elaborated their conspiracy by being conspicuously present in the Prime Minister's absence.

Messrs Prescott, Brown and Straw formed a de facto conspiracy last week by being conspicuously absent when the Prime Minister was present. Yesterday they elaborated their conspiracy by being conspicuously present in the Prime Minister's absence.

Again, they all sat next to each other and chatted animatedly. Mr Brown gave Mr Straw a document to read. Mr Brown prompted Mr Prescott audibly as he rose to answer questions. They were a team. Or at least they were giving the impression of being a team. With one's political ability, the other's manner and the third one's guts they add up to a handy, portable Blair that could sit on our car dashboards (assuming, that is, they get the right part from each to make the best mutant they can).

Actually, I'd thought the leadership questions had all dried up, but the Deputy Prime Minister made two peculiar references to Mr Blair's sensitive situation. He praised Ronald Reagan for reducing the world's WMD. (There are ways of praising American presidents without linking them to Mr Blair's greatest current vulnerability.)

And then he made a scripted joke alluding to the long conversation he'd had with Gordon Brown recently. The Tory position on Europe was like asking for lobster thermidor in Macdonald's. It would be very nice but it's not on the menu. "I don't know what it is about seafood and politics," Mr Prescott said, "but I couldn't have put it better myself."

What does he mean? Taken in totality, the safe bet would be nothing at all. The cat is away. Even rats can safely play.

Gordon Prentice asked one of his succinct and uncomfortable questions, more uncomfortable and more succinct than poor Michael Ancram could manage. "Do we need more single-sex Muslim schools?" Try answering that in the privacy of your own bathroom and then try saying the same things in public and you will realise Mr Prescott's problem. What did he end up saying? My notebook is blank. That doesn't mean he said nothing.

Extrapolating from answers to other members, he probably said: "You think you're clever, don't you, well you're from Pendle! You're too thin. You need more sunshine. You could do with a square meal, mush. What are you asking me for? I'm the one who's responsible for it so why do you think I'd tell you? Go and join the lot opposite who want to abolish the NHS in five years, then I'll show you some WMD, as long as you promise to sit on them."

Hillary Benn made a statement about Darfur. He told us it's the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world today. A million homeless. War, famine, pestilence. It's in the Sudan, incidentally. Remembering the Prime Minister's pan-global pieties, it is becoming ever more apparent that politics is not concerned with what you care about, but what you choose to care about.

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