The Sketch: Why Blair will miss Michael Howard (unless Davis wins)

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The Independent Online

Next week is Michael Howard's last Prime Minister's Question Time. Elegies all round. Ave atque vale. "Eheu fugaces postume, postume."

What will it help us that once we were strong? Experience tells us these last farewells are more comic than melancholic, so yesterday was Mr Howard's last proper outing .

He chose to spend it "holding the government to account". It really was neither the time nor the place. What a waste of life it represented. "The days flee away and are lost to me, lost to me."

Courage! Let's face it in a manly way. It's not for much longer. Off he went, on the attack (always a mistake). He linked the shortage of flu vaccines with rising gas prices in order to show the Government imploding under its own incompetence.

Does it work for you? Keen as I am to believe the worst of the Government, I found myself admiring Tony Blair's mastery of himself, the Opposition, the other opposition, the opposition behind him and the opposition above.

He laughed at Mr Howard's plan for nationalising energy buying, and told us that gas prices were a fifth of what they were in the rest of Europe.

I didn't believe any of it until Mr Howard said it wasn't true. The Prime Minister is always helped by Conservative attacks as we know - as everybody knows, except consecutive Conservative leaderships.

Time and again they prove it, and yet they continue in their ways with a constancy that ought to have destroyed them. Perhaps that's what Conservatism means.

Mr Howard's decision to oppose the Government in all things has meant the PM can push his party around the landscape at will. Such simple-mindedness! He will miss it. Unless, of course, David Davis wins. He has seen them all off, one by one. The one with glasses, the hairless ones, the scary one. He hasn't really seen off Charles Kennedy but then there's been no need.

At any rate, Mr Kennedy rose to louder groans than usual. He spoke very slowly as if illustrating a clinical textbook on depression. No one can remember what he said. It is a measure of his grip on our imagination that we haven't noticed the opportunity he is squandering.

At a time between two tides, the LibDems either need someone old and imposing, or someone young and attractive. Instead they are settling in for another term with Charlie in the middle. He is a pumpkin, lit up from the inside by a single guttering candle. His party really ought to be ashamed of themselves for their executive uselessness. Is it gutlessness, spinelessness or brainlessness? I say this not to be nasty - not just to be nasty - but to ... on second thoughts, it's pure nastiness. They are perfectly matched.

NB: Simon Hughes made everyone laugh. He stood up, opened his mouth to inhale, "Too long!" someone heckled.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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