Coffee House

PMQs sketch: Miliband nutmegs Cameron, while the Speaker seemed preoccupied

5 February 2014

4:28 PM

5 February 2014

4:28 PM

That should have been a tap-in. London is currently crippled by a Tube strike thanks to the noted beach enthusiast, Bob Crow, and his high-earning chums at the RMT. So David Cameron had a superb chance to tip a bucket of manure over Ed Miliband’s head. The political connections are self-evident. Red Ed, union militancy, London throttled, all Labour’s fault.

But Cameron was nutmegged by Miliband’s tactics. Ignoring the strike, the Labour leader asked about the newly formed inland sea which used to be known as the West Country. He accused the government of a slow, tight-fisted and shambolic response.

Cameron assumed the facial expression of pumped-up severity that he usually reserves for Syria. He reeled off a list of statistics intended to give the impression that he wields personal authority over the sun, the wind and the tides. As he gave these answers, one sensed him asking himself if he dared to introduce the Underground strike as a related theme. Flood chaos. Tube chaos. Stranded farmers. Stranded Londoners. An act of God. An act of Bob. In the end he ducked the opportunity and treated the swamped south-west in a sombre and workmanlike manner. Investment in flood defences, he insisted, is going up. No, said Miliband, it’s going down. Up, said Cameron. Down, said Miliband.

Just like the water levels.

Miliband moved to a fresh topic and Cameron braced himself to pounce. But he ran into an ambush. Miliband reminded us of an unwise Cameron boast.

‘He said he was going was going to lead the way on women‘s equality. How’s that going in the Conservative party?’


Cameron scrambled for the relevant figures. The Tories had boosted their tally of female MPs from 17 to 48. They’d cut taxes for 11 million female workers. And their aid programmes were geared towards women’s rights. All irrelevant, as it turned out. Miliband then sprang his trap.

‘A picture says more than a thousand words,’ he said. He levelled a finger at the Treasury bench and its uniform array of men in suits. Labour’s front row, by contrast, had been cunningly pre-loaded with female talent. There they sat, in their blouses and pashminas, happily gloating at the male-dominated government. It was vivid testimony that Labour modernises while the Conservatives stagnate.

He runs his government like an old boys’ network, scoffed Miliband.

Ah but, said Cameron, at least we had a woman prime minister. Unlike you.

Ah but, replied Miliband, at least she won elections. Unlike you.

It was a great piece of theatre. And it killed the Tube strike as a political weapon.

The Speaker gave one of his strangest performances ever today. There were the usual putdowns cribbed from Billy Bunter stories but his rhetoric was tinged with awkwardness and malice. He called a Labour backbencher, ‘an incorrigible delinquent.’ He named the Education Secretary and cracked a long-winded joke about antiquated class-room punishments.

‘Mr Gove,’ he scolded from his chair. ‘You really are a very over-excitable individual. You need to write out a thousand times, I will behave myself at prime ministers questions.’

And he admonished the House with this barmy warning. ‘We must calm ourselves. Many hours of the day remain. Don’t destroy your systems by exploding.’

Systems? Exploding? Poor Berc. Something’s on his mind.

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Show comments
  • Chris Walton

    On this issue, as on so many others at the moment (e.g. the flooding, Europe), Mr. Cameron comes across as hesitant, confused and increasingly rattled. Is the strain of the job and the fact he is surrounded by incompetent ministers, affecting his mental and physical well being?

  • ButcombeMan

    What a stupid article. I am no Cameron fan, Milliband hardly landed a blow. I despair of the Spectator

  • Paul

    Let’s see Ed, you’re a puppet of Unite, you’ve got no idea of economics, you have Ed Balls as your financial expert, you can only whine and wail about Cameron’s education and the problems of the UK, largely caused by Labour, but hang on – you can sit with some Labour women (and what beauties they are to boot) on the Opposition front bench, you can dish out cheap, personal abuse in PMQs and wag your finger – you have my vote in 2015, that’s for sure

  • Doggie Roussel

    Looking at the Labour front bench today, it was definitely a case for a finger in the dike …

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Labour. Not so much Front Bench as park bench.

  • BarkingAtTreehuggers

    “The tragedy is that nothing happened for so long” — who said that?

  • MirthaTidville

    Labour’s front row, by contrast, had been cunningly pre-loaded with female talent.

    I presume you wrote that with a straight face??????????

  • Shinsei1967

    I presume the women Ministers were not at PMQs because they were away doing their actual jobs. Not just hanging around at PMQs as wallpaper.

    • Mynydd

      I saw Mr Osborne there, I know his father sells wallpaper, therefore was he there on family business?

  • HookesLaw

    It does not sound to me like an effective performance by Miliband. Sounds schoolboyish to me.

    • Mynydd

      It was effective because Mr Cameron couldn’t have the chance to go on and on about the tube strike.

  • Ancient Brit

    Perhaps Bercow had read Mrs Gove’s article in the Mail. Superficially supportive of Mrs Bercow but deadly.

  • BigAl

    Do women really want or need this attention from Mr Milliband? Overall a bit patronising. Which group will he latch onto for political capital next?

    A few policies would go down much better with the electorate, including women.

  • Ron Todd

    PMQ becoming a wast of time. Should be serious people asking serious questions about serious matters and getting serious answers. Instead it is one side trying to shout the other down backbenchers trying to get a mention of their constituency in to get a mention in the local paper and the two main protagonists trying to out wit each other.

    Something like a regular weekly select committee type set up to get answers from the cabinet members might work better. Backbenchers would lose the chance to get on the telly but we might learn more.

    • Mynydd

      The Telegraph a right leaning paper has reported today that Conservative MP’s listed to ask questions are sent an email at each Wednesday at 11O’clock from Mr Cameron’s office telling them what question he want them to ask. I love it.

      • realfish

        And Labour MP’s aren’t corralled in the same way?
        Cost of living crisis, Bedroom Tax, Food banks, Cost of Living crisis, Bedroom Tax, Food banks, Cost of Living crisis.
        Tell us something we don’t know.

      • Ron Todd

        do you think the other parties don’t try to control what questions their MPs ask?

      • Makroon

        Which is what every government does in this farce. Or have you conveniently forgotten all the fawning questions to Brown asking if he would honour his humble minions with a recital of the latest tractor production statistics ?
        BTW that article also points out that most Tory MPs ignore the e-mails.

  • LadyDingDong

    I saw a lot of females on the Labour front bench but I did not see any ‘talent’.

    • DWWolds

      Well said!

    • David Simpson

      well you were’nt looking very closely were you. What a silly post but then again just what you would expect from a tory

      • Colonel Mustard

        I see the national socialists have their online units out in force today. Maximum effort comrades, we can win the online war. Game changer!


    • jack mustard

      No women on the Coalition front bench and no talent either.

      • realfish

        They were all elsewhere, working, not in the Commons posing for a picture opportunity.

    • George_Arseborne

      Underminding Women. Same Old Conservative gender inequality rhetoric. Your mum will be so proud of you, as you regards her as an under dog. SHAME ON YOU.

      Remember you are a child of a woman without which you would have been non existence. Women even if they are dull deserve some degree of respect.

    • telemachus associates

      Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint, shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran, shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves, shadow Commons leader Angela Eagle and Labour chief whip Rosie Winterton.
      What my dear are you thinking of?
      The talent above is breathtaking.
      It was a masterstoke today. 50% of the electorate will sit up and take note.
      As we post frequently.
      The Tories are the party of xenophobes.
      The Tories are the party of islamophobes.
      And now:
      The Tories are the party of mysogynists.

      • Ron Todd

        I would rather have a cabinet with one woman who got there on merit than a cabinet with five women who got in as a quota.

      • Colonel Mustard

        “The Tories are the party of xenophobes.
        The Tories are the party of islamophobes.
        And now:
        The Tories are the party of mysogynists.”

        I thought that was UKIP according to you? Are you now attempting to smear and proscribe even the Conservative party in your aspiration for a single party national socialist state?

        The Labour party are the party of lies, lying and liars which means we can dismiss your extremist hate speech on their behalf.

        • telemachus associates

          In any team there are nuances.

          As ” Sheriff of Coffee House” you should appreciate that.
          I think you should view it as two faces of the same dragon.
          I would challenge you for example to describe a single difference between Pickles and the UKIP executive team.
          I like to view it as Tories terminally divided among themselves over Europe.
          Just as Baron, Reckless and co are estranged from Cameron, May and co, so Farage, Charalambous and co are simply right wing Tories bent on Knifing Tories in marginals to let Labour in.
          We are unsurprised however that you use your riposte to inflame reasonable readers with talk of hate speech.

      • Ricky Strong

        Are you genuinely the offspring of Telemachus? I could have sworn its sperm swam in circles.

    • Makroon

      Obviously they were well-prepared for the latest stunt, whilst Teresa May and Justine Greening who usually occupy the Tory front bench, were away somewhere. Top opportunism Red.