The Sketch: Whatever the policy, put your money on McKinlay in a fight

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The Independent Online

Andrew McKinlay would be useful in a doorway brawl: small enough to get in there, quick enough to do the damage and probably quite meaty at close quarters. He's got hands that turn into fists, a chest and a stall-holder's voice; he gives every impression of being a proper person. We can only hope he resists the offer of a frontbench job.

There's only one man on the health front bench and he looks like a small woodland animal peering out of a bush. Mr McKinlay would add texture. Let's hope he's never tested because he might fail (as most do).

He popped up in his fighterly way during health questions to take on anyone who felt they were hard enough: "Since 1975, there have been some 27 reorganisations of the NHS. Tories and Labour governments alike. Ministers come and then move on and the next minister undoes everything that's gone before. What people want, what patients want is a settlement."

People laughed, even the Health Secretary. What did she find so funny? He'd just called her a waste of valuable space in this crowded island of ours and she crooned and preened through the chuckling: "May I most warmly agree?" Well, yes, she could. And then she could go home. She could put her feet up and text in the answers to the questions she wished she'd been asked, and we could treat them with the same seriousness as we do now except more quickly.

David Tredinnick started his question and everyone laughed knowingly. They were waiting for him to refer to alternative medicine, and when he did they cheered. The minister threw her hair around. The Tories roared (it's awful when they roar). Mr Tredinnick always asks about alternative medicine, so everyone always laughs when he does. It's like playing peek-a-boo with a two-year-old. He says "homeopathy" and they burst into gurgling laughter. It makes you want to behave like a three-year-old and throw up at them.

Mr Tredinnick was asking about the Food Supplements Directive - its the latest Napoleonic curse to come out of Europe. Every food and supplement that goes on sale has to be on a central approved list. That which is not expressly permitted is forbidden. This is a continental system that runs counter to our untidy tradition where everything that isn't forbidden is permitted.

Patricia Hewitt said with complacency (forgetting it was her Government that signed this wretched regulation), that it was all going to be implemented in the lightest, most freedom-loving way "because it's what the people want, it's what ... [fill in with your own waste matter for 20 minutes]. For those who like to note these things, Ms Hewitt is still well behind in her brief. Still, she won't be there for long, if Andrew McKinlay's right.