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A quietly simmering PMQs

12 September 2012

3:08 PM

12 September 2012

3:08 PM

Butch? What the hell does it mean? At the last session of Prime Minister’s Questions, Cameron boasted rather rashly that he was ‘butch’. Today Chris Bryant  used it again when he accused the prime minister of anti-female prejudice in the recent reshuffle. ‘He described himself as butch last week,’ said Bryant. ‘Just what is his problem with women?’

Ed Miliband added to the attack and dubbed the prime minister, ‘Mr Butch.’ The word is out-dated but full of flavour and it carries hints of campness and homoeroticism. And perhaps a dash of homophobia too. But it doesn’t pack enough semantic value to have any traction as an insult.

Hostilities remained on a low simmer today. With the statement on Hillsborough due straight after PMQs, both leaders were striving for a high-minded and Corinthian tone. So luckily we were spared the spectacle of them rolling in the mud and cursing at each other like two chimney-sweeps scrabbling over a dropped sixpence.

Ed took up a position on the economy. And, sure enough, Dave occupied the opposing view. It was very hard to tell who was right. That’s assuming you weren’t finding it too hard to stay awake.

Has the deficit been cut by 25 percent in the last two years? (The Cameron Hypothesis). Or has it increased by 25 per cent in the first four months of this year? (The Miliband Declaration). Even if you can whip up enough energy to check the numbers, you’ll find that both are equally right. And equally misleading.

The backbenches were left to enlighten us about the state of the nation. But the backbenches were full of their constituents’ woes so we heard huge amounts about teeny-weeny little things: an ancient regiment in Carlisle is under threat from defence cuts; some hospital somewhere is being closed; a  granny in Bognor with ‘crumbling vertebrae’ can’t fill in her blue badge forms; and there’s a village near Pendle where the broadband service shuts down when it rains.

Blimey. It was like a parish council meeting.

Things warmed up when Elfyn Llwyd called the Tories ‘the nasty party’ for swiping benefits from wheelchair-users. Cameron flatly denied this of course. Gordon Banks raised the ancient corpse of Tory sleaze. In 1993, the Conservative chairman, Norman Fowler, had promised to return Asil Nadir’s donations to the party if the dosh turned out to be half-inched. ‘Tainted money,’ said Mr Banks. ‘He has a duty to pay it back. Come on,’ he goaded. ‘Cheque book out!’

Cameron responded with one of most blatant side-shuffles in the history of choreography. ‘I haven’t seen the evidence for that,’ he said, apparently unaware that Asil Nadir is currently lying on a spongey old bunk-bed, counting the bricks in one of Her Majesty’s guest-rooms.

Having avoided Tory donations, Cameron focused on the millions of quid handed to Labour by three militant trade unions. He claimed that this cabal of plotters is hoping to ‘bring the country to its knees with a general strike.’

The TUC will love that. The spectre of 1926 gloriously reawakened. And by the PM himself! Mr Cameron should think twice before building his pygmy opponents into titans.

The most significant moment came from Andrew Slaughter who asked the premier to reaffirm his commitment to the  whizzy new train-link – HS2 – which will help Brummies escape to London in record time.

Cameron replied, ‘I fully support HS2 and it needs to go ahead.’ But he said it very fast, tonelessly, and without any emphasis at all, as if he hoped that the words would be too scrambled to make an embarrassing news-clip at a later date. My guess is that High Speed 2 will soon be moving at Maximum Speed 2.


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