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Coffee House

The ghost of Tony Benn stalked PMQs

19 March 2014

3:45 PM

19 March 2014

3:45 PM

Tony Benn, the most divisive left-wing figure since the war, united the house today.

David Cameron paid tribute to him as an orator, diarist and campaigner. Ed Miliband praised his determination to ‘champion the powerless’ and hold the executive to account.

Miliband moved to Crimea. He called Sunday’s plebiscite ‘illegal and illegitimate’. Cameron trumped him with a curious phrase that bolted a bit of punchy modern sloganising onto a fragment of olde Englishe slang. The referendum, he said, had been ‘spatch-cocked together in ten days at the point of a Russian Kalashnikov’.

The leaders, both keen to denounce Russia in the most savage terms, swapped promises about travel bans, asset freezes and economic sanctions. Then Cameron broke clear of Miliband and suggested booting Russia out of the G8 forever.

Steady, Dave. If they exclude our sportsmen in retaliation we could forfeit the chance to lose the World Cup in 2018.

Miliband moved from one area of consensus to another. Benn, first. Then Crimea. Next mental illness. He wanted the PM’s assurance that mental health deserved ‘equal footing’ with other disorders in the NHS.

[Alt-Text]


Already done, squire, said Cameron. Using the swankier phrase, ‘parity of esteem,’ he noted that the relevant laws had been passed some time ago.

Very odd for Miliband to choose such frictionless topics at PMQs. Mood swings, manic depression, paranoia and so on are massive issues. But they offer no opportunities to make political trouble for the PM. Was Miliband using bi-polarity to conceal his tactical weaknesses? A part of me said yes, and a part of me said no.

Miliband wants to promote mental health through ‘changes to the NHS constitution’, which sounds a bit like re-writing the Ten Commandments. Cameron had an easier solution. Equality of provision, he said, is now ‘referenced in the mandate given to workers.’ He added that £400m has been invested in ‘talking therapies.’

Bully for Hampstead. A new couch for every shrink.

Tony Benn popped up again. John Whittingdale mentioned that Benn’s ‘ancestral seat of Stansgate’ lay within his constituency. The Tories chuckled ironically.

Kerry McCarthy, for Bristol East, mentioned that Benn had represented Bristol for many years. She evoked his combative spirit by asking why, in food-bank Britain, the prime minister is seeking to re-introduce hunting ‘by the back door’.

Cameron lectured her about rising growth and ‘the dignity’ available to the unemployed who return to work.

No Labour MP made the obvious contrast between posh-boy Benn and posh-boy Dave. Benn was an elitist who liked to torment the elite whereas Cameron is an elitist who likes to defend it.

They were too polite to say so.

The Tory view is that Benn was a toff who loved the poor so much he wanted more of them. And had he captured Number 10 he’d have succeeded.

They were too polite to say that either.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


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