Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The Unknown Unknowns


When Donald Rumsfeld said there were unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know - he must surely have been thinking about Prime Ministers Questions.

For what else could explain the sudden appearance of life among the leaders of our main political parties - unless it was the three months off in the summer. To be fair to the PM it is his birthday and it is not yet known if he has lumped for the jungle or ocean adventure to mark his 47th year. Indeed, he may even snub McDonalds. 

But, he had clearly buffed himself up for the day as he shiny-faced his way into the Commons for  this post-Conference PMQs. There have been many times recently when the contribution of the Leader of the Labour Party to the national debate could best be summed by the headline "Aargh Ed."

But, again today was not one of them. 

Instead, it can reported that a new improved Ed, injected with extra human pills and shoved into a suit that fits, turned up in his place.

The behaviour of the Deputy Prime Minister during the weekly clash between his boss and the leader of the Labour Party has also been one of supine indifference. Indeed, so withdrawn has Nick Clegg been from matters going on around him that observers often wondered if he'd left his body during the half hour of PMQs. But, such doubts were dispelled today by the appearance of a newly animated version of the Leader of the Lib Dems.

Now, it's true that the only common found among all three this week has been the re-shuffling of their teams. Ed had the pleasure of back-handing a few Blairites plus the extra satisfaction of dumping the never knowingly loyal Dianne Abbott. Dave had go at changing the southern rich white male profile of his party by swopping one set of almost unknowns for another. But, it was Nick who pulled off the corker by getting the less-than-the-full- pound-note Norman Baker into the Home Office.

For those still unaware Norman achieved fame in the last Parliament by going awol for a year to write his conspiracy book into the death of Dr David Kelly. Until then, he had been the go-to MP for a quote on anything he knew nothing about. Nick and Dave were so impressed with this decision that neither had the nerve to tell Home Secretary Theresa May in advance - which gave an added frisson to her appearance at PMQ. And so it was against this background of the shafting of some against the promotion of others that the Commons met to renew itself.

In a world of rapidly changing values there are luckily some constants and PMQs was only seconds old before the birthday boy was off on one. A quick question about married couple tax breaks (a bid to stop the Mail monstering him) and Dave stuck the Prime Ministerial bottom over the gas ring. This meant Ed, pausing to wish him a happy birthday, only had to slightly turn the tap to get him hovering off the ground over energy prices. With a solid Government argument yet to be produced his back benchers looked on anxiously as Dave tried - and failed - to get a grip.

The PM stared longingly in the direction of his Chancellor George Osborne but may have been unnerved by the appearance of Theresa M just a few feet away. The happiest person in the Chamber was clearly Ed Balls, severely out of sorts since economic good news scuppered his "flatlining" charge. He was back on best barracking form sharing his insults equally across the Despatch Box with both George and the PM.

Dave said Ed B continuing as shadow Chancellor was his best birthday present and the present itself just smiled even more. Having seen off the Mail himself even Ed M found time to smile when Dave dug down in the toy box and produced a "Marxist universe." Tory back benchers came back to life at the sniff of a good Red Ed insult but slumped again as Dave failed to follow through.

Further down the front bench Foreign Secretary William Hague maintained his look of boredom and Culture Secretary Maria Miller maintained her look of fear as she prepares to be scapegoated over Leveson. Medicine for Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt's continuing sickly grin has clearly not been found. But, there are signs that his hands are improving following over-enthusiastic applause for his leader at the party conference.

PMQs tottered on for another 15 minutes but it was a muted affair as Tory MPs who failed to get on the payroll this time seemed to realise it might have been their last chance.

Meanwhile it should now be reported that those earlier signs of life in the Deputy PM may have been over-stated.

It is not known if the full impact of the Norman affair had finally been realised but certainly normal catatonic service had been resumed.