The Sketch: You need an ice pick to get an apology out of the PM

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The Independent Online

It was William Hague's deft phrase when our main contender was feeling out support for the EU presidency. Tony Blair was "on manoeuvres". So it is for Jack Straw. He is out and about. It is all to play for. He is a one-man masterclass in manoeuvrability.

He cleverly took a leadership role in the new regime's first apology for the 10p tax band. He bounced Gordon into sort of saying he was sort of sorry (you need a dentist with an ice pick to get those words out of Gordon's mouth). Straw's apology was full, frank and open-hearted but then it wasn't his mistake he was apologising for.

It was a torpid Justice questions yesterday with all the energy and most of the MPs out on the streets canvassing for local elections. It's hard to think about anything except the PM's difficulties.

Those reflections floated around among the competing analyses of crime rates (people now believe anything they want to believe, with full statistical back-up).

I have £50 on Straw as next leader. People say Alan Johnson. "But he's admitted he's not up to it!" I yelp. "Exactly!" an ex-minister said. "He'd have to give power back to his cabinet. Ministers would like that." I hadn't thought of that. I'm worried about my £50 now.

Who else could do it? Ed Balls? He's got eyeballs that are like fishbowls; you can practically see the carp swimming around in there. Cooper, Harman, Burnham, Purnell, Kelly all have the makings of a good candidate. If we had the surgeon to sew their best bits together the candidate would make a good deputy.

David Miliband grows in stature on a weekly basis. He's like a just-add-water sea monkey. But he's very, very clever and five million Daily Mail readers can't forgive that. And truth to tell, I'm not sure how much JimSheridan, Ken Purchase or Alan Milburn look to him and sing, "Lead us, heav'nly David, lead us."

This is not to say Gordon is going anywhere. Short of total psychological collapse (and it would be hasty to rule that out entirely), he is going to lead his partyon to the opposition guns in two years' time.

But the madness that we saw in Treasury Select Committee eight years ago is as strong as ever. From recent remarks, it seems he believes that he has been responsible for a decade of low inflation. It was "a tough long-term decision" he took.

But now that inflation is picking up, he has made another tough long-term decision: to blame China.

When nothing is your fault, you have to rearrange the world so that it takes the blame for you. It's not prime ministerial, is it? But at least it keeps the comedy going.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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