Miss Ryan's eyes revolved almost in different directions

Wednesday, 18 July, 2007

Ministers are still claiming, with rising hysteria, that they are going to press ahead with ID cards. John Reid, Home Secretary, chose not to be drawn into the matter yesterday. Far too canny for that.

Instead he left ID cards to the least convincing of his ministerial colleagues, Joan Ryan. I say "least convincing" to be kind. She is terrible. As bad as I have seen.

Well-informed people at Westminster say that ID cards are never going to happen. It is suggested that Gordon Brown has put the kybosh on them, partly for money reasons, though that has never stopped him wasting Treasury billions before.

Mr Brown may also feel indisposed to ID cards because they would be run by the Home Secretary, Mr Reid. Whom Mr Brown hates. Girls, girls!

Tony Blair on Sunday came over all PMT-ish (Prime Ministerial Tension, since you ask) when asked about ID cards. He insisted, eyes blazing with defiance, that the scheme was not being dumped. So that has to be the "line".

Ministers have to repeat Mr Blair's assertion, even though they suspect it may well be tosh. The "line" must be defended. The "line" is everything. Which inspiring sequence of events brings us to Miss Ryan.

Tall as a second storey drainpipe, she clutches hold of her briefing folder rather as a toddler cuddles its security blanket or a well-chewed teddy bear.

Really, one should not mock, for Parliament is a serious place and ID cards, or the ludicrous sums of money they will cost, should not be a matter for comedy. It is, however, impossible to take Miss Ryan seriously.

She arrived recently at the Home Department from the Whips' Office. The great thing about being a Whip is that you never have to speak at the despatch box. Whips do not debate. They menace. They torture. But they do not speak on the floor of the Commons. If they did, backbenchers might mock them and they might lose face.

This means that Miss Ryan, who entered Parliament in 1997, has been little tested as a debater. Her quickness of wit, smoothness of delivery, the serenity of self-confidence as she stands there in front of a doubting, scornful House - all these have gone undeveloped.

Anne McIntosh (Con, Vale of York) had raised "identity theft". Miss McIntosh was raising a constituent's problems. She does this sort of thing well. Miss Ryan managed to find an answer of sorts.

But then David Ruffley (Con, Bury St Edmunds) stepped in and broadened the discussion out to ID cards in general. At which point, had Miss Ryan been a bicycle tyre, she would have emitted a "pfffft" and gone flat.

"In which year will ID cards be introduced?" asked Mr Ruffley, who is brilliant at lacing his questions with rancour. He could make even a casual call to National Rail Enquiries sound like a QC's cross-examination.

Miss Ryan started to bluster, waffle and throw out chaff. Eventually she stumbled across the date of 2008 and said it angrily. "I would repeat, 2008!" she cried. The House laughed.

David Davis, shadow Home Secretary, was soon on his suave soles. He noted that the Government, in its pro-ID cards propaganda, claimed that ID cards would save banks £504.8million. The banks themselves say the figure is more like £37million. Which is right?

Miss Ryan's eyes revolved almost in different directions. "ID fraud is a growing crime," she said. "It costs a great deal of money. It is a scourge and an affliction to our society."

By now she was blushing so hard that her reddening skull was visible through her blonde hair. She told Mr Davis that he should explain what his policies were, rather than asking the Government such questions. Er. No. I don't think that's the point of Parliament at all, dear heart.

By the time Miss Ryan sat down she was quivering, visibly. Labour backbenchers looked on in quiet horror. Mr Davis chuckled. Mr Reid did not move.