We started with questions on work and pensions.
Small packets of misery are unwrapped by MPs and presented to Iain Duncan Smith. There are families on low benefits, young persons with nowhere to live and quadraplegics told by Atos, the private company employed by the government, to get a job. If that Frenchman can write a novel by flickering his eyelids, they should be able to work as shelf-stackers. Or so the aim seems to be.
Mr Duncan Smith replies to these cries for help with a blast of jargon. MPs respond in kind. In Scotland, we learn, there are only two "mental health champions to improve the making of capability assessments". (This may mean that there should be psychologists saying something like: "This person is only a bit mad. Make him enter politics.")
The government has also brought in a "jam jar strategy", by which people are asked to save their money in jars – one for the gas bill, one for water, booze, etc.
This would not work in the Eric Pickles household, since all the jam jars would be full of jam. Mr Pickles is the minister for local government. Back in 2010, he was a very big man. Now he is enormous. Great folds of flesh surround his facial features and blur into where his chest must be. He is the only man I know who has a double chin – at the back of his neck. With his white hair and bright red face, he resembles an immense strawberry meringue. If you read Kipling's Just So stories you may recall Small Porgies, the gigantic monster that rose from the sea and ate people, and whom Kipling would have modelled on Mr Pickles, had he been born.
When he sits back on the front bench, it shakes, and his fellow ministers wobble up and down. He speaks in equally orotund language. The growth and infrastructure bill he was moving would help us to "compete in a global world". (What other kind of world do we have?)
MPs were worried about the threat to village greens. "The national planning policy framework strengthens green places," Mr Pickles declared elliptically, before adding "but we need to make sure that the registration system is not used to hinder legitimate development," which sounds threatening. If I were a duck in a duck pond, I'd expect to be concreted over by a new NCP any day.
His shadow opponent is Hilary Benn, who is very thin. His job must be like trying to stop a hippopotamus with a stiletto – you might manage it but it would take a long time. He made the point that Mr Pickles's professed localism was really communist "democratic centralism" in disguise. "The only thing growing is the secretary of state's power; he is mentioned 144 times in 45 pages!"
But not growing half as fast as the secretary of state. If the British economy were expanding at the same rate, we would be the richest nation on earth.
Simon Hoggart's collection of sketches from the past 20 years, House Of Fun, is now on sale at the Guardian bookshop, priced at £9.99, a £5 reduction. Signed copies are also available, or if you want a personal dedication on a label, send an s.a.e. to Simon at the Guardian office
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