Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Dirty Digger is Back


Pivotal is not the word that usually spring to mind when considering the impact of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt on British politics. Some assume he must have photographs taken and filed away from his time at Oxford with the Prime Minister to explain his continued appearance in the Cabinet.

But, pivotal must be used today to describe the activities of the man who, in an earlier life, tried - and failed - to sell marmalade to the Japanese.

This is a story about today's episode of Prime Ministers Questions, the last before Parliament takes its summer break. But, to understand it, kind readers must cast their minds back 24 hours to Jeremy's last appearance before the House of Commons. You will remember he first came to public knowledge as Culture Secretary when his handling of the phone hacking affair led to accusations that the hand of a muscular Australian - Rupert Murdoch - was firmly up the back of his jacket.

Well, the hand of another waltzing matilda - Lynton Crosby - is now said to have slid sharply into the void created by Rupert's departure. Mr Crosby, as we know, is the man who manages to do one day a week working for the ruling party and the rest of the time working for companies who want to talk to the ruling party. Luckily, Mr Crosby does not let his left one-day-a-week hand know what his right the-other-days-of-the-week hand is doing. But, it is believed that one of Lynton's arm appendages was behind Jeremy's out of character attack on Labour and his shadow Andy Burnham over patient safety yesterday.

The Health Secretary has always been heir apparent to Geoffrey Howe as recipient of the "savaged by a dead sheep" Denis Healey award. But, he seemed to have had a stick strategically inserted up his anatomy as he made his way, albeit terrified at times, through his scripted onslaught. With the Despatch Box thankfully between him and the increasingly apoplectic Andy, he was roared on by those in the much safer seats behind. (He was still shaking hours later when he appeared on Newsnight ad it was feared his rapidly swivelling eyes would unscrew and fall to the floor.)

With Labour, the party of the NHS, now cast as its chief villain - a position honourably held by the Tory Party for almost 70 years - the scene was set for a classic episode of PMQs. Seats were taken early for the expected encounter tipped to better even last week's decibel delighting clash between Jeremy's patron, David Cameron and Ed Miliband.

But, as the girding of loins got underway the cry went up where was Jeremy? He normally spends PMQs just out of the reach of his friend Dave who,as regular readers know, regularly casts around for victims when control of his senses deserts him.

Thus it was when he was spotted cowering behind the Speaker's chair, one foot already out of the door, that you realised that he was advancing no further. This position offers cover from the marauding Labour benches and would be useful if apoplectic Andy had abandoned his Cambridge veneer and issued a Liverpool fatwah.

Peering nervously over the big boys in front of him, the Health Secretary reprised those roles of frightened rabbit and tethered goat so beloved of his time in the Culture Department. But, it was clear by his off-the-park positioning that Lynton, having used him to light the touch-paper yesterday had decided on a temporary halt to hostilities.

With Labour joyfully hammered in today's Tory-backed newspapers he was more than happy to let Ed try to put Dave on the spot.

The Labour leader used nurses numbers for his attack but the newly-energised Dave was more than ready for him. He shrugged off the attack and even made a half-hearted attempt to talk himself up into a row, egged on by his back-benchers still foam-flecked from yesterday's clash. But, Ed move swiftly away from that shaky ground to the name on everyone's lips - the new dirty digger - Lynton.

Where were his hands when the Government abandoned plans for plain packaging for cigarettes - bearing in mind that his company also lobbies for tobacco companies.
"Not up my back," was the PM's answer as he happily returned to an earlier successful Lynton theme of singling out Labour's links with the unions.

Dave was the "Minister for Benson and Hedge funds" said Ed in an otherwise undistinguished end of term performance for his members already unnerved by reports of Tory resurgence. They tried their best with further mentions of the new Aussie on the block but by now Dave had his Lynton links off pat.

Labour MP Paul Flynn caused momentary panic when he asked the PM if he knew the meaning of the words "question"and "answer" but Dave stuck to tradition and ignored him.

Speaker Bercow, worn out last week with his impression of spring-heeled Jack, rose only once to call for relative silence in a session where heat once again left light at home.

By now, Jeremy had fled and with Speedo's packed and flights booked he was soon followed by fellow MP's who,though some have called for teachers to cut their summer break,will be back in September.

And so will Lynton.