It never happened. That’s what happened at PMQs today. Westminster fans tuned in expecting to see the ugly moment when MPs would start accusing each other of playing politics with dead babies.
Instead it was a live baby – Prince George – who got all the attention. David Cameron wished ‘a happy and healthy life’ to the royal rug-rat. Then up stood Ed Miliband. The Tories cheered and jeered at him with ironic savagery. Clearly, he was about to be rinsed in the Westminster car-wash. He glared at the government benches wearing his favourite expression of indignant grandeur. If only it made him look like a leader rather than like a stoned postman who’s turned up to work on a bank holiday.
His questions were all softies. He asked about Syrian refugees, about the G20, about the talks in Geneva. In reply David Cameron wielded a pillow instead of a machete. (Had they arranged the love-in beforehand?). He said it was pointless to ‘want peace’ more than those involved in war. Only at the end of their exchanges was the lost Commons vote mentioned. Miliband said it did not mean ‘Britain is shirking its global responsibilities.’ Cameron said he regretted Miliband’s decision ‘to divide the house on a vote that would lead to a vote.’
Labour’s whips laid on a heavyweight team to plug their latest stroke of genius on Syria. Ex-foreign secretary, Jack Straw, asked the PM to enlist Iran’s new president in the peace moves. Cameron revealed that he’d already sent Mr Rouhani a nice little note commending his triumph at the polls. It must have been a hard one to phrase. ‘Congratulations and I hope you’re overthrown soon.’ Cameron added that he was ‘cautious’ about progress with Iran.
Then Labour’s peace convoy rolled in. Veteran campaigners Jeremy Corbyn and Joan Ruddock – who have striven all their lives to stop wars without ever actually stopping one – asked the PM to ‘be more positive’ and to try to renew relations with Iran. Slight snag there, said Cameron. They just smashed our embassy to bits. Things like that can cause quite a chill in diplomatic circles. Finishing his reply to Joan Ruddock, the PM held her eye across the chamber and vowed to do everything in his power to inspire peace at the G20. A faint smile played over Dame Joan’s lips and she beamed at him like a matriarch watching her smallest grandson singing ‘Kum Ba Yah.’ Cameron’s insincerity has magical qualities sometimes.
The Tories, also well whipped, had a different story to tell. Great news on the economy. Business is booming, apparently, in places like Tamworth and the Cotswolds where unemployment is plummeting and hordes of happy school-leavers are queuing up to fill apprenticeships. Cameron did his best to crow without appearing to crow. ‘Early days,’ he cautioned. He stuck it to Ed Balls and accused him, ‘even today’, of promising to borrow and spend more. ‘The UK’s succeeding. Labour’s failing,’ said Cameron. He sounded like he wanted to turn it into a football chant.
No PMQs is complete without a moment when the PM nearly loses it. Labour’s Jim Hood asked about the bedroom tax and Cameron instantly overheated. Labour, he yelled, had been ‘ranting and raving’ on the issue. He leaned across the despatch box and dared Miliband and Co to announce a U-turn.
‘Will they reverse it?’
Silence. Cameron goaded them again, this time with Marcel Marceau promptings.
‘This means yes,’ said Cameron. (Nod, nod, nod). ‘And this means no.’ (Waggling his head from side to side).
Labour’s high command looked terribly glum as they absorbed Cameron’s angry needling.
It was very childish, faintly cruel and rather effective.