Brown bunked off PMQs today, claiming a prior luncheon engagement with President Zuma of South Africa. Downing Street blamed the Queen for double-booking the PM. Can that be true? The head of state deprives the Commons of its democratic right to shout ‘Answer the question’ at a block of granite. Perhaps she had their best interests at heart.
Hattie Harman, replacing the PM, turned up in a pair of alarmingly shrill pink glasses. Opposite her, William Hague wore a sober suit of inky blue. He looked ominously business-like as he aimed his first shot at her. Why had Brown cut the helicopter budget while the country was fighting two wars? This sent Hattie scampering to her dressing-up box of muddled phrases. ‘We have a second-to-none commitment to our armed forces,’ she improvised strangely. Hague then floated the worrying issue of the economy’s long term viability. ‘Why does she think UK government bonds are almost twice as risky as bonds of Pepsi or Mcdonalds?’
Finance gets Hattie in a terrible twist. She sounds like a four-year-old explaining space travel to a pretend friend. Jargon and overheard half-concepts are mashed together in a confidently asserted jumble of bilge. ‘The price of Sterling depends on a whole range of issues,’ she said, unaware that Hague had asked about bonds not currency. ‘The most important thing is that the economy should grow,’ she burbled loudly, ‘and that we should have more jobs.’ She then changed the subject to Lord Ashcroft, achieving this quite deftly by mentioning ‘the issue of integrity’, and adding, ‘this country has been misled. Were they misled by the deputy chair of the Conservative party or…’ Mr Bercow cut her off here, and reminded her to focus on areas of government responsibility.
Hague stood up, looking riled by all this Ashcroft business. ‘People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,’ he said with hurt solemnity. On a lighter note, he reminded us that the boss of Unite, Jack Dromey, who happens to be Hattie’s hubbie, has just been selected as a Labour candidate, ‘having gone through an all-woman shortlist.’ Tory cheers greeted this. Hague went on merrily. ‘She may not want to recognise marriage in the tax system but she sure does in the political system.’
There followed an enjoyable interlude during which both sides traded ‘dodgy donor’ insults. Hattie asked about the missing ‘tens of millions’ supposed to have been paid in tax by Lord Ashcroft. Hague brought up Lord Paul. ‘He was made a privy councilor after he bought 6,000 copies of the Prime Minister’s book on courage.’ Hague had fun with another Labour backer, Mr Bollinger. ‘Champagne socialism is still alive in the Labour party.’ These delightful insults ended with Hague calling on the PM to ask the Queen for a dissolution while he’s up at the palace eating sandwiches out of a Tupperware box.
The much-married Mr Zuma provided Vince Cable with some mirthful opportunities. He wondered if Hattie, as government spokesperson on gender equality, might draw Zuma into a debate on polygamy. Cable had only to mention ‘married tax allowances’ for members to fall about laughing.
The house was in an excessively silly mood today. Betty Williams, recently savaged by an out-of-hand hound, referred to the Dangerous Dogs Act and was accompanied by an exquisitely rehearsed impression of a frolicking spaniel. Gerald Kaufman entreated the government to affirm the Falkland islanders’ right to freedom, independence and sovereignty. ‘And penguins!’ shouted a ventriloquist so perfectly that it looked as if it had come from Kaufman himself. Have MPs got too much time on their hands?
Hattie Harman was as hopeless as ever today. Although he cut her off twice, Mr Bercow made insufficient efforts to force her to concentrate on government policy. Her robotic and repetitive soundbites reveal where Labour strategists consider the Tories to be vulnerable. 1. Inexperienced Osborne. 2. Talking down the economy. 3. Unemployment ‘a price worth paying.’
Labour are also keen to tar the Conservatives as ‘pessimistic’. It’s a spring election. Winners need hope in their hearts. Labour know this.
Today’s brightest news is Hague’s return to form. Witty, methodical, and with just the right hint of steel, this was a classic performance from the Yorkshire bruiser. Hats off to Slaphead.