The Sketch: Words, words, words: tragic Gordon blusters on

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The Independent Online

I'm not sure Gordon's doing the right thing agreeing to these TV debates. There's too much he can't say. "That's a particular problem for my party," as Cameron put it yesterday. Gordon couldn't say that – the words would come out as: "That isn't a particular problem for my party." If he tried to say, as Cameron said, "I don't have the answer to that", it would emerge as, "the answer to that is, as I have said before, and I was right to say".

So Cameron can announce that he's going to address his "particular problem" by having all-women shortlists and, whatever one feels about the idea, he sounds frank. Gordon reiterates the same policy as long-existing Labour practice and he sounds like a fraud. If only politics were about policy, it would be fair and he'd be popular.

All the party leaders were the guests of the new Speaker. (John Bercow has risen to such heights.) He had summoned the Lords of Parliament to give an account of their failure to make Parliament more diverse. Gordon said (a little too loudly, a little too forcefully, and, glaring perhaps, a little too angrily) that the Government was going to move fast. I don't think anyone believed that. He said prejudice would be finished in a generation. I'm sure no one believed that. I for one still have about 25 years left in me, if I lay off the chardonnay.

He also told us that to get more women into politics there would be no "top-down enforcement". I wondered if that would work. And I was able to take a little holiday from the melancholy spectacle of Gordon talking by imagining him enforcing a top-down policy on Harriet Harman. And having imagined that enough (and it's surprising how quickly it happens), I dared to hope that he might insist on some sort of bottom-up process for getting women into the party. And there it was! After repudiating top-down enforcement twice, he gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to the bottom-up process.

But then he spoilt it all by saying forcefully, loudly and angrily that all-women shortlists were a national instruction from the Labour Party's central directorate. Bottom-up is best, but top-down works. So I don't know. He can't say one thing without saying the other. We should expect shortly a clarification on the biscuit preference to include Snickers (which isn't a biscuit at all, you know).

But what a poor, suffering animal he seems to be. He looks like a walking sacrifice, all those sorrows he has packed up under his eyes. There are elephants with fewer wrinkles. If he leaves it until May, the party will be led into the election by someone who looks like W H Auden. It might just work, I suppose, the British do like poetry.