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Lord Henley, the affable junior education minister, is curiously inarticulate for a pedlar of politics. To say the least. The poor man's latest outing under the glittering chandeliers of the Hilton Hotel's Grand Ballroom was a triumph of ineptitude, raising ripples of amazed laughter all round. John Cleese sat hand to face in a hopeless attempt to suppress the mirth as he listened to a real-life Minister of Silly Talks.

Lord Henley, whose elevation to high office is not wholly unconnected with his family background, was standing in for Education and Employment Secretary Gillian Shephard at the Fulbright Commission's 50th anniversary gala dinner. Saluting the late Senator Fulbright's success in turning a post-war peace dividend into the UK-US scholarship programme that has since made awards to more than 10,000 students, the minister climaxed with a reference to "turning ploughshares into... er... ploughshares into...". The Monty Python team, Cleese included, might have struggled to do better.

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