Policy and Politics: Sketch - Stephen Cook has a day out at the House of Lords

It's always a treat to go to a House of Lords debate. You hear arguments from some of the finest minds in the land and witness some spectacularly unashamed daytime sleeping. And you always get an Elegant Waffler.

When Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville stood up in the second reading of the Charities Bill last week and said it was clear everyone welcomed the Bill etc etc, eyelids began to droop. Had it been after lunch, we'd have joined the chap slumped sideways in row three.

But it was only late morning, and when he began talking about the foundation of Bart's hospital and Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, the antennae began to twitch a bit: where on earth was this bloke taking us?

Within minutes we were visiting post-war Germany, Eton, Charterhouse, and Bantu education in the 1960s. So it was no longer in doubt: here was today's Elegant Waffler. His experiences at Lords cricket ground as a nine year-old came next, followed by Haileybury School, the Indian Civil Service and Plato's Republic.

Now he was really motoring. We heard about a committee set up a century ago to negotiate the size of the balls for prep school cricket matches and how whole towns in the south were once sustained by such schools.

(One in Swanage was attended by former Labour leader Michael Foot, he said - the sort of aside that passes for political point-scoring in the Upper House.)

Then, eventually, the summing up: "I hope that that most English of games, cricket- a game that combines two of this nation's greatest contributions to the wider world, those of lyric poetry and instinctive political wisdom - will be allowed to illuminate the discussion on public benefit through that wisest of umpiring conventions, the benefit of the doubt ..."

This was Elegant Waffling of a very high order. Lord Brooke, you may remember, was, as Peter Brooke, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland from 1989-92. His career ended soon after he was inveigled into singing Clementine on an Irish TV chat show the same night the IRA murdered eight Protestants.

Like many old boys who had a hard time under Thatcher, he's now out at pasture letting his imagination roam and trying to broaden our perspectives.

Long may his kind survive.

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