Wednesday, January 29, 2014

PMQs January 29th - Ebullient Ed, Beaming Balls and potted Dave

At first it looked if somebody had slipped the deputy Prime Minister a bit of bad botox and then powdered his hair grey, but then Dave moved and it wasn't Nick after all. This, we were to discover, was but one of the confusions to mark this week's episode of "I'm an MP…Let Me Out Of Here", known to the uninitiated as Prime Ministers Questions.

Nick, as regular readers will know, occupies a traditional position at PMQs -  supine and somnolent - to the immediate right of the Prime Minister. There, he spends a happy half hour displaying complete indifference to  proceedings whilst his boss ebbs and flows with the tide of insults and praise which marks parliamentary democracy. But, today he was missing and no note was produced - at least no note was presented - and thus, the confusion when PMQs kicked off and an impostor was spotted in his seat. 

Only yesterday the Lib-Dems, beset with their many internal problems, decided a fresh approach to politics was needed and appointed 69-year old Sir Malcolm Bruce as Nick's new deputy - the old one having taken the Cabinet shilling. Was this he then, the deputy's deputy, deputising for the Deputy PM at  the PM's PMQs? Sadly, the answer was much more mundane; it was in fact Frances Maude, a Minister for whom the word mundane might have been invented and whose luck in musical chairs had obviously run out.

With this mystery disappointingly solved, attention could be turned to the main business of the day, the regular weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth which is booked for 12 noon every Wednesday.

The script for this week had already been written following the gobbets of good news released by the Government in recent days. The Tory 'beserkers' had turned up early to practice and Referee Bercow had the rare privilege of calling for calm even before the kick off.

The Prime Minister was dutifully borne in on a palanquin of noise, accompanied by Chancellor George sporting his Cromwell cut and garlanded, no doubt, with more goodies to come. Tory MPs went, to borrow a parliamentary phrase, totally bonkers, as they feasted in the sight of the two Ed's awaiting eviscerating - and then it all went wrong.

The plan was for a patsy, aka sacked Minister Chloe Smith, to kick off with a question inviting the PM to lick George all over, spit (politely) on the two Eds, and bask in applause. This bit worked and led the massed ranks of the not-so-people's-party to howl themselves hoarse as they waited for Ed Miliband to rise and skewer himself.

The Labour leader has, to the disappointment of many columnists, been trying out a new, restrained approach to PMQs over the last three weeks. It can now happily be reported this has been abandoned.

Instead, the old new Labour leader, victor of many PMQs in the past, arose sphinx-like from the ashes of conciliation, to boot the PM and his party right where it hurts. They had expected an Ed on the back foot over recent economic good news and condemnation of Labour's pledge to bring back the 50p tax rate.

The usual - rather well off - suspects had popped up in the usual - rather unsurprising - places to praise the one and condemn the other. Against this background, the bully boys were in full-voiced anticipation of another PMQs annihilation for Ed M, whose recent record has been, to be kind, poor. But, today he was having none of it as he nailed Dave with questions about future Tory Party plans to further reduce the top rate of income tax. The braying behind took on a slightly strangulated note as the PM searched his notes and his brain for a safe answer and found neither in either.

This form of attack had clearly not been forecast and the Prime Minister suddenly had no idea where to go. A now ebullient Ed Miliband, asked who it was who said before the last election that a 50p tax rate showed we were all in it together.

As the PM's St Tropez slipped south towards his collar, Chancellor George grimaced and Tory MP's shuffled shiftily and suddenly silent. With Labour now in newly found voice Ed asked and asked again whether they planned to cut the top rate to 40p -  Dave just shouted.

Whoever drew up the Ed attack deserves instant promotion as the PM and his party were left both surprised and stammering. As he floundered about, uncertainty spread down the front bench passing an already discomforted Chancellor to reach even Ken Clarke, who had the look of a man who knew something was going on somewhere.

Cabinet members dived for what ever cover they could find as Dave's inner-Flashman came out and he started staring about him for victims. As the "party of the rich" tail was again nailed to the Tory backside, there was the sudden sight of a beaming Ed Balls who had spent much of recent PMQs tied up in his kennel.

And if a beaming Balls was not enough, Dave got himself in such a state that even a pre-rehearsed-off-the-cuff attack on his bete noir, had to be abandoned when he couldn't find his notes or remember his insults.

As Labour took up the howling, Ed happily returned to sledging what was left of a now bemused PM who'd turned up expecting roast Eds for lunch, only to find himself in the pot.