Wednesday, January 08, 2014

New Year PMQs - Peace and Bollocks with Dave and Ed

Peace reared its ugly head in the House of Commons today as tradition was abandoned and politeness stalked the chamber. Ticket holders were left asking for their money back as the first parliamentary bun-fight of 2014 - Prime Ministers Questions - degenerated into consensus.

The usual suspects, refreshed by a three week break, had gathered in the usual place and the usual nonsense was expected. But, instead of normal hostilities, MPs had obviously come back to London via Brest-Litovsk - or some equally foreign sounding treaty place - to start the New Year. Both sides were back in their trenches but it was as if the metaphoric football had been kicked into the no-man's land separating the front benches.

There was Dave, sleekit as ever, and there was Ed, whatever the opposite of sleekit is, but neither seemed in the mood for a fight. And while belabouring the centennial of World War I, a clue as to what was to break out may have been found in an early sighting of Michael Gove.

Those who bothered during their Christmas break with the newspapers will have spotted the Education Secretary up to his usual trick of rewriting the school syllabus. This time he wanted historians to mark the beginning of the first war to end all wars by dropping the "left-wing" allegation that millions died because our lions were led by donkeys.

Normally Mr Gove, whose vocabulary is often too big for his mouth, sits centre-stage happily swopping insults with the trenches opposite. But, today - was it part of the peace process? - he appeared to have been banished to the rear.

Almost immediately the word went up that a dirty deal had been done to put light where there had traditionally only ever been heat. Ed unlimbered only long enough to agree with Dave over something or other and to put a couple of insult-free questions to his apparently new BFF.  The Prime Minister then stunned onlookers by breaking with tradition and trying to answer what he had been asked. 

In the absence of insults Ed Balls sank into silence.

No mention was made of the New Year gong for the man who put the parting into the Prime Ministerial coif. No mention of absent brothers or absent policies and no mention of millionaires. In fact not much mention of anything insulting.

By now bored, MPs had taken to their iPhones and up and down the front benches ministers and their shadows smiled nervously across no-mans land.

Obviously unnerved by the whole affair, Speaker Bercow tried his best to re-start hostilities. He called on Diane Abbott, guaranteed to exclude herself from any agreement about anything, to sow discord where there was peace.

Diane put on the face and produced the finger and Dave did make a short stab at getting worked up, but you could see - even for Diane - he was not really trying. To his left, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson had been jammed between Theresa May and Chancellor George.
As the man whose fingers should have been in various dykes in flood-ravage Britain he had turned up expecting a hard time. Instead he passed a happy half hour swopping stories with George and the occasional light insult with the opposition.

Up and down the chamber MPs basked in the rare opportunity hear themselves think, never mind talk, as the normal massed choirs un-massed. Out on Whitehall tourists and traffic passed by without even knowing that their representatives were back in business.

Speaker Bercow tried again with Lib Dem Tim Farron but, Dave just smiled him away.

Even a broadside from Labour's John Mann, who has turned insulting into a fine art, passed by as if a compliment.

By now even the Speaker, slumped discontentedly in his seat, seemed to have abandoned hope of a return to normal service. He had a final go extending PMQs by an unheard-of ten minutes, but, when a Scottish Labour MP appeared to pay a compliment to the PM, he called it a day.

Within seconds the BBC said there might have been a deal between Dave and Ed to put the polite back into politics.

Seconds later Team Miliband let it be known Ed wanted "more serious" in PMQs.

Seconds after that Team Dave said bollocks.

See you next week.