The Sketch: Where next for the man who is nothing?

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The Independent Online

I really must apologise to Conservatives everywhere: I've been drowning kittens all week and kicking puppies over the garden wall. All the malice and rancour necessary to deal with the leader of the Conservative Party has been used up.

Mr Blair's big tent is collapsing. His ministers have misled the House, his credibility has melted away. The massive increase in public spending is producing pitifully small results. Public debt is soaring. The unions are gearing up for a winter of discontent and in the absence of Alastair Campbell, No 10 is threatening to enter its Caplin years.

And what does Mr Thing make of it? Nothing. It's why a disintegrating Government is well ahead in the polls. To describe the poor fellow as a nonentity makes far too much of him. He must look at himself in the mirror and think: "I'm sure I've seen that face before? I wonder where?"

One of his colleagues kicked off Prime Minister's Questions with an ineffably silly question. He asked Mr Blair to define deceit. The Prime Minister replied by saying that we'd got the best exam results in history, pensioners were being lifted out of poverty and hospital waiting lists were down. Suddenly it didn't seem such a silly question.

The Tory leader's inability to nail the Prime Minister is a great crime against democracy. It allows Mr Blair to say things such as: "Every single aspect of the NHS is better than it was in 1997." Or: "The only justification for a referendum on the European constitution is if it represents fundamental change ... The change represented by the constitution is absolutely fundamental."

George Stevenson distinguished himself by supporting a referendum from behind Mr Blair's shoulder. He suggested it would help to connect the Government with the people if they were asked their view on the constitution. Mr Blair said that people should have more faith in parliamentary debates. No, I didn't get it either. He now says the constitution may be a fundamental change in our Euro-arrangements but because it is right for Britain it doesn't merit a referendum. If he weren't opposed by an empty suit across the dispatch box he couldn't get away with it.

Poor Mr Thing, his lack of presence is forgivable; his lack of absence is not. He hasn't the wit, the weight, the hair, the age, the agenda, the substance, the intellect, the capacity, the vigour, the voice, the touch, the power, the penetration, the salesmanship, the statesmanship, the charm, the trenchancy, the political ability, the gravity or the levity for the job.