Explosive stuff at PMQs. Question two and Sir Peter Tapsell, the Father of the House, was called. This quaint semi-official title makes him, potentially, the chamber’s most dependable bore. Not today. He called on backbenchers to enact their ‘ancient but still existing power’ to commence procedures of impeachment against ‘the Rt. Hon. Tony Blair’. Not for war crimes. For lying to parliament about the Iraq invasion.
Wow. This bombshell took the pressure off Miliband who’s in lousy shape and could do with a win at PMQs. Badly. He hasn’t got near Cameron for months. But he decided to shelter behind the nation-quake in Iraq, and he spent all six questions exchanging lightly-armed platitudes with the PM.
But beforehand, he had to endure the wrecking ball of Tory applause. It’s a weekly ritual. At noon, every Wednesday, Miliband enters the debate like a TV star making his Shaftesbury Avenue debut. He’s engulfed by whoops and cries of adoration from the Conservative benches. It’s painful. And he always glares back at them like a vegetarian finding a half-eaten worm in his coleslaw. It’s worse than painful, in fact, it’s tragic. Can’t he hire a comedian to write him a few debonair put-downs for these occasions?
Or is it worth the bother? His poll rating is plummeting so fast they’ll soon start hunting for the pinger. And where Miliband leads, his troops follow. Their hot-button issues are going cold. Food banks, benefit cuts, disability glitches, loan sharks, the bedroom tax? Not a peep from Labour’s backbenchers. Even their spiritual home, the NHS, has become a no-go area because they can’t work out an effective response to Cameron’s Cardiff strategy. Asked any hostile question about health, the Tory leader quotes the control experiment of Wales where Labour’s governorship has simplified the service into a morgue with a waiting-room attached.
‘They’re yawning!’ said Cameron, as he delivered his stock reply on health. ‘They’re not yawning in Wales. They’re stuck on waiting lists, desperate.’
Ben Bradshaw had a pop. Bradshaw’s handsome, ageing face might almost be a Mount Rushmore statue after a particularly savage rainstorm. He had a crafty plan today. A nine-word question to wrong-foot Cameron.
‘How is his campaign to stop Mr Juncker going?’
Cameron saw the ball in time and walloped it for six. ‘Principle,’ he yelled. Not the individual candidate but the ‘principle’ is the key to this appointment. ‘If you want change you’ve got to stand up for it,’ he said, suddenly so fired up that his jowls were all a-wobble. ‘And I will fight this right to the very end.’
His backbenchers roared like a bunch of birthday party kids seeing the cake arrive. Cameron sat down with a grin spreading across his pink chops. He mouthed a personal ‘thank you’ across the floor to Ben Bradshaw. He meant it.
Bill Cash was called. His question was dense and convoluted. The gist was that his Euro-colleagues have recently blocked an EU attempt to give the adjective ‘euro-sceptic’ the same ethical value as ‘xenophobic’ or ‘racist.’ Great stuff. Well played. More worrying is the implication that the EU has assumed the power to accord words, which are the tools of thought, moral quantifications.
I recall a book written by someone called Blair mentioning this a few times.
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.