KEITH NEWBERY Are ministers’ briefs getting too far out of control?

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Have you noticed how some secretaries of state never seem to be entirely in control of their briefs?

This may sound like a cheap joke at John Prescott’s expense (I’m not averse to making the odd one) but on this occasion I’m attempting to highlight the worrying air of indecision and incompetence displayed by some front-benchers when they accede to power.

The good lord from Hull was a prime example, but there have been plenty of others.

Take Margaret Beckett, for example, whose appointment as Foreign Secretary during the last Labour government had eyebrows arching all over Westminster.

She looked about as comfortable as a Sunday School teacher organising a stag night, and admitted reacting to Tony Blair’s offer of the job with a four-letter word, which at the time was thought to have been more Samuel Beckett than Margaret.

However, we could be doing the lady a gross injustice, and it may even have been the same four-letter word used by the rest of the country when her appointment was announced.

‘What?!’

Jeremy Hunt is another who looks as if he can’t quite believe someone has been daft enough to give him a cabinet job.

The Culture Secretary seems permanently startled; his face is frozen into a wide-eyed, slightly manic expression as if he lives in constant fear of someone asking a question to which central office has not provided an answer.

He operates on cliché overload, and you get the impression an original thought may once have found its way into his brain only to be frightened off by all the platitudes it found swarming around in there.

Theresa May always looks as if she would rather be out buying shoes than debating boring old stuff like immigration control, Olympics security and anti-terrorist legislation.

Compare these people to the likes of Michael Gove and William Hague, who both probably emerged from the womb clutching a copy of Hansard.

Yvette Cooper takes politics so seriously she even agreed to marry Ed Balls, while Harriet Harman is probably suffering withdrawal symptoms as we speak.

A long summer looms before her – a barren time bereft of committee rooms and MPs’ surgeries.

Still, that will leave plenty of time for planning and plotting, so the recess will not be entirely wasted.