The leaders of Britain's three main political parties dared to appear together in public today, but their ears said more about them than their words.
By Ian Dunt
Sitting behind someone, their ears become more important than would otherwise be the case. Not really a thought that's ever occurred to me before, but with the Speaker's conference dedicated to the important ethical and constitutional principle of getting minorities into parliament, the mind begins to wander.
Chaired by John Bercow, who never bothers to mask the glee with which he slips into Michael Martin's shoes, the conference was lucky enough to be given evidence by Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg today. Journalists worked themselves into something of a lather at the thought of the three men sitting side-by-side, casually failing to mask their profound animosity towards each other. Unfortunately it wasn't to be, and the three appeared one after the other. They even used separate doors, so once one stood up to leave, the next would miraculously appear on the other side of the room, like strangers in the night, or a cuckolded husband returning to the house to find a sock he knows isn't his.
The committee room has seats to the side of the horseshoe of MPs for journalists to sit in, but turn up late and you're relegated to the public seats at the back of the room, right behind where the leaders sat. This gave me the unique opportunity to study their ears, which, as I've already said, take on a rather more profound significance once you're behind someone.
There was talk of diversity, for what it's worth. All three are terribly upset at not having more women, disabled people and ethnic minorities in their parties or - more importantly - their front benches. Brown tried to avoid a question about the absence of ethnic minorities in Cabinet by suggesting several sat around the Cabinet table sometimes, which was really a profoundly cowardly method of deflecting the criticism. Cameron insisted changes in the Tory party were now so entrenched he could "fall under a bus" tomorrow and it would continue. Several MPs allowed a flutter of happiness to cross their face at that moment, not least of all Julie Kirkbride, who cut an attractive figure (can't seem to imagine her without that bale of hay behind her) throughout the proceedings. I presumed she was recalling the phone call she had with him when it became clear she had to go, but perhaps she has other things on her mind. Nick Clegg had by far the most interesting points to make but also received the most hostile reception. He has no ethnic minority MPs, which really is the sort of thing they berate you for at diversity committee hearings.
But back to the ears. Brown is a big man. I tend to forget how big, until I see him again and think: my, you are big. The size of his face is unforgettable. Is this coming across as erotic? That really would be a low point.
It's the ears that really seize the imagination. Vast and epic, they attach to his head like a long-lost Milton poem or a triathlon. They seem almost limitless at times, starting somewhere inside the hair and working their way down to join the chins that swarm under his mouth. It's quite possible they pull in surrounding objects because of their mass.
And then, suddenly, they were gone, carried away by the prime minister's body to be replaced by the dulcet tones of the leader of the opposition. Mr Cameron, for his crimes, has pitiful ears. Miniscule and irrelevant, they are a kind of footnote to his face, shrivelled fossils attaching themselves to his visage like tics attach themselves to armpits. It is only partly the fault of his ears. He has a prohibitively long face - disarmingly long, in fact - and they struggle for attention. He also has an odd habit of sitting forwards in his chair, like a schoolboy who knows the right answer. This only changed at one crucial moment, when he leaned back to ask one of his aides about some constituency statistic or other. Suddenly his warm and friendly persona died a little bit, and he spoke curtly, loudly - as if barking orders.
And then there was Clegg. Mr Clegg has normal sized ears. He sits normally. He did nothing odd, apart from get into a minor spat with Dianne Abbott, which I wouldn't hold against anyone. That is all.