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The Sketch: Davies the demonic, red-faced alien

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Imagine being shown round the Great Hall of Quentin Court, or wherever it is that the Procurement Minister lives. Mounted on wooden shields would be pairs of hairy, cloven-footed limbs sticking out into the room. And you realise why there are so many lopsided donkeys dragging themselves around his estate. "Ah those!" he will say of a large pair, "I talked those off at the Defence Committee on Tuesday."

Good grief, how he goes on. The words stream out of the psychopathic mask on the front of his skull. What a construction it is, red and gently pulsing, mouth like a slash, demonic eyebrows... You dread to think what Quentin Davies has buried in his cellar.

He spent years in the Conservative party digging the loneliest hole. A Thatcher-loving Europhile with a first-class degree from Cambridge, he alienated every section of the party. Thus, he was denied the politician's basic right of being able to speak indefinitely and have people listen. He's got that at last now. He defected and was given ministerial status specifically to annoy the Tories. So he gives them his cleverest smile – the one that says he has achieved greatness and cast off his low acquaintance.

I doubt the committee has ever heard such a flow of self-satisfied volubility. The chairman James Arbuthnot is a quiet Tory who can do considerable damage by not saying anything. He left an eight-second silence after a general gave an inconclusive answer on the Hercules that went down without life-saving flame-retardant foam. Two or three times he asked Mr Davies for shorter answers, then started interrupting and finally gave a tutorial (with examples) in not banging on. Labour's Dai Havard came at it from the other end, barking: "I don't want company, I want an answer!" He wasn't going to get one, not from a minister who can't admit we have three armed forces and only enough money to keep two in the top division.

Clever Bernard Jenkin pointed out some figures in the Winter Supplementary Estimates showing a £900m drop in some budget line. "If the word 'cut' is there," the minister said, "it would be a mistake." No, it was rebalancing, reprioritising, reviewing. It was increasing the coherence by creating the widest possible range of operational options. It was a contradiction in terms.

Finally, with all this reprioritising, was the Government cutting back on future operations to fund current operations? "No." No? No, no, no, no, certainly not.

We took that as a Yes. It couldn't mean anything else.

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The Sketch: Davies the demonic, red-faced alien

Imagine being shown round the Great Hall of Quentin Court, or wherever it is that the Procurement Minister lives