David Cameron and his stand-in: the men who weren't there

The Labour MP Jim Sheridan on Tuesday called for sketchwriters to be banned from the Commons.

Speaking at a committee meeting on the new royal charter for the press, he called us "parasitical elements who abuse their position", adding: "They hide behind their pens, calling people names."

I don't know if you've ever tried hiding behind a pen, but I certainly don't recommend it if, say, North Korean stormtroopers are looking for you.

Mr Sheridan did not understand why we were even allowed to come into the place. Somewhat ruefully, he reflected that the royal charter would not achieve the goal of excluding us, but he hoped it would oblige us to act with a sense of decency.

So far as I know, being rude about MPs is not covered by the new charter, but perhaps it should be. Mr Sheridan was, for instance, infuriated by the attacks on his great friend, the former Speaker Michael Martin, which continued right up to the moment when Mr Martin's fellow MPs booted him out.

Mr Sheridan is a wonderful man and a titan among legislators. Though I would point out gently that it wasn't the sketchwriters who published the fact that he had spent £1,002 on a 42 inch television, paid for by the taxpayer. How else was he to keep in touch with his constituents' interests and concerns while busying himself at Westminster? On a 13 inch Bakelite black and white TV showing reruns of Muffin the Mule? Some people have carped about paying for his £990 "ivory leather bed" – do they expect him to spring to work after a night on a pile of straw? Or a park bench? So I went into the chamber resolved to have a kindly word for everyone. Unfortunately it was tricky. MPs on all sides were infuriated by the fact that David Cameron had not turned up in person to tell them about last weekend's European summit, something he almost invariably does.

Instead the Foreign Office had sent Mr Hugo Swire, an understrapper in the department. He was challenged by Bill Cash, the Tory MP for Stone, whom I regret to say was once regarded as something of a joke figure because of his obsessional, repetitive attacks on the European Union.

As a consequence, and in the light of the Cyprus imbroglio, he looks more like a visionary, attacking the EU bureaucracy for its combination of arrogance and pig-headed incompetence.

Mr Swire excused the prime minister, who had said the council was merely to "take note" and that nothing "exciting" had happened. This pleased no one, including the Tory Europhobes. Peter Bone, the skull beneath the skin, said it was "absolutely unacceptable" for the prime minister to do what he did. But he asked Mr Swire: "Can you confirm that you were at the meeting?"

He couldn't. He wasn't there! Everyone jeered at that. Not only had Cameron declined to turn up, but he had also sent someone who wasn't even at the meeting he was supposed to be briefing about!

Oh dear. Under the new Sheridan guidelines MPs will have to start ejecting each other. But I want to praise Mr Swire to the skies for his dazzling exposition of a topic he clearly knew almost nothing about.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Simon Hoggart, for The Guardian on Tuesday 19th March 2013 19.33 Europe/London

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