There was an eerie, eve-of-battle calm about today’s PMQs. The real bust-up
isn’t due till Friday. The votes will be in, AV will be out, Clegg will be down and Huhne will be calculating his next move. Before today’s session everyone expected Labour to
co-ordinate an ambush and try to light Cameron’s ever-combustible fuse. But the chamber was under-populated and the opposition hadn’t troubled to devise a battle-plan.
Miliband carried the fight to the PM. With an assured forensic performance he methodically built up the case against Cameron as a promise-breaker, a question-dodger and a budget-slasher. Cameron
dealt with the assault by absorbing rather than repulsing it. But at the end he came back strongly and after Question Six he unleashed a machine-gun burst of coalition achievements which had his
troops cheering merrily. ‘More, more!’ they hollered at Miliband. That’s how you shout ‘Loser!’ in parliament.
Labour’s backbenches failed to retaliate. The well-drilled Tory backbenchers showed them how it’s done. Out they came in their shimmering ranks to make their pitch for tomorrow’s
poll. Member after member stood up and heaped praised on a thrifty, bumpf-cutting Tory council and contrasted it with a cop-sacking, bureaucrat-boosting Labour authority next door. Cameron had it
easy. He urged all local authorities to follow the prudent Tory example. It was left to Labour’s Dad’s Army to turn out on parade to remind us what we’ve been missing since they
shuffled off to the old folks’ home.
Bob Ainsworth mumbled something inaudible about enshrining ‘the military covenant’ in law. Jack Straw asked an interesting but ill-timed question about stem cell research. Michael
Meacher, long overdue a new set of dentures, chewed his noisy way through a question about increases in borrowing (although it may have been about no fly-zones, hamster injections or deep-sea
fishing – it was hard to tell). The city of Manchester was represented by the nattily suited and slickly coiffed Tony Lloyd who looks like a cartoonist’s sketch of a slum landlord
dressed for the High Court. He chose the topic of child poverty and, wiping a tear from his eye, he pleaded with Cameron to fight a scourge which forces little wee kiddies to ‘go to bed
hungry in homes their parents can’t afford to heat’. This manipulative Dickensian twaddle was clearly intended for Labour diehards in the north-west rather than for a 21st century
debate in Westminster.
Jack Dromey popped up briefly to confirm his position as the easiest target in parliament. No one listened to his question and Cameron told him to go back to Birmingham and apologise for being
selected from an all-women shortlist.
A Labour member for Luton, Kelvin Hopkins, provided the Dadaist moment that no PMQs would be complete without. After stumbling and stammering through a bizarre list of prophecies about collapsing
employment and falling house-prices, Mr Hopkins predicted the imminent demise of the Tory party. He asked the PM to wave goodbye to his parliamentary cohorts and take up his seat on the opposition
benches. ‘Sounds like he’s from Fairy Dairyland,’ said Cameron.
The reference is from a Benny Hill novelty song about a milkman. If he was hoping to cheer up Nick Clegg, whose face was a study in sorrow throughout the session, it didn’t work. Betrayal has
boomeranged back and hit Clegg where it hurts.