Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Taking the P....


Taking the P out of PMQs has become something of a habit for it's present incumbent and never with more pleasure than today.

Facing revolts, recriminations and ridicule over his in/out/shake-it-all-about policy on Europe, David Cameron decided to go awol. With another bout of internal angst due tonight in another irrelevant vote on the EU the Prime Minister declared himself "profoundly relaxed" - from the United States. He should have been in the Commons for his weekly filleting at the hands of friends and enemies (frenemies?) at the bun fight aka Prime Ministers Questions.

But, as Labour was happy to point out, Dave has dodged the event on seven out of the last eight Wednesdays. And today, No 10 declared he was absent again because, irony of ironies, he was in the US discussing vital trade links with the EU.

With Dave off the menu and foam-flecked Tory MPs roaming the streets in advance of tonight's vote there was clearly only one substitute. There are some who say you have to hand it to Nick Clegg and so, being offered the chance this morning, everyone did.

It's been open season on the Deputy Prime Minister since he took the coalition shilling -and the chauffeur-driven--three years ago. Well aware of his popularity, he generally avoids open spaces, dark alleyways and voters but, now and again, his day job catches him out. It seemed extra cruel to put him on display on the very day - or at least the latest day - the Tory Party plans to implode over the EU since he is the only person they blame more than Dave for their dilemma.

With that in mind it was a fighting, if nervous, Deputy who got to his feet to the encouraging sound of warm cat-calls from the benches behind him. From the start, it was clear that Nick had adopted that old boxer's mantra of always staying on your feet whatever happens and he ducked, parried and dived his way through the ordeal.

Speaker Bercow appeared to indicate some unmentionable unhappiness with the Lib Dem Leader by calling every Tory MP who might have a rude, if discreetly dressed, word to say about him and his party's stance on Europe.

Nick adopted the traditional rules of PMQs and ignored the questions asked and answered the questions not asked but his coalition partners were having none of it.
With Dave out of town Ed Miliband, whose own performance in recent days has alarm bells ringing, had staged his own disappearance and his deputy Harriet Harman was let loose. 

Despite her best efforts, Harriet is to well brought up to be really insulting and after a couple of cracks she was quick to sit down and let the Nick-nobbling continue from his own side.  

Chief bruiser Ed Balls stuck his head out from behind the Speaker's chair to see if he was needed. But, having mocked up a passing insult from the DPM realised even his particular gifts were not needed today.

Was this the real Nick Clegg?, asked one Tory MP producing a Lib Dem leaflet, bearing his portrait, making a case for a referendum on Europe. 

The House hardly paused to consider the charge that a party leader might say one thing and do another. The jeers went up again and the other Lib Dems on the Coalition front-bench polished their feet with their eyes.
 
Business Secretary Vince Cable looked as if he'd come along for the fun but adopted inscrutable gargoyle number five face as the man he would replace struggled on. Meanwhile, Chancellor Osborne and Foreign Secretary Hague had clearly popped into the rictus grin shop.

By now, even the Speaker was showing some slight signs of shame and called for calm, helpfully suggesting that the Deputy Prime Minister did not seem to mind being shouted at. Taking that cue MPs ignored calm and the Speaker ignored them.

Mr Bercow did try again when an Isle of Wight Tory MP added to the  DPM's insults:
 "The people of the Isle of Wight should hear his answer" ,he said - without realising they probably could.