PM Surveys Muddy Waters as Dragons Lurk

Dave’s visit to Chester Zoo was a sketchwriters’ wet dream.

The only animals were dragons behind his shoulder (on the left in the picture above).

The PM stared pensively into muddy waters.

Exclusive to all newspaper sketchwriters tomorrow…

What Vengeance Bercow Will Deliver

Speaking for the sore losers – that was the most partisan act of chairmanship ever seen in the Commons.

Through the Urgent Question before and the debate itself, Bercow called almost no one who would speak in favour of the Motion.

Twenty-odd Tories of the Speaker’s party swung the vote in his favour.

And now Bercow is the most powerful man in Parliament. When the House reconvenes, there probably won’t even be a cry against his re-eclection (and as Gerald Kaufman is likely to be Father of the House, any cry made will probably go unheard).

He is immoveable now. He will serve the whole of the coming parliament and probably go well into the following one. 

What a vengeance he will deliver! It will almost be worth the watching…

Speaker Delays Vote as Labour Recall MPs to Westminster

The Speaker in the chair just now looks like he’s been awake for a hundred years. He is not taking the news of today’s Motion in the spirit of democracy.

The Government wants to make the re-election of the Speaker a secret vote. It is a very tender subject.

Elections and re-elections of all other chairs is by a secret vote. This is as it should be.

The re-election of the Speaker is the one exception – it was a deal done between the Speaker and Harriet Harman at the end of the last parliament.

What reckless MP would vote against a sitting Speaker in an open ballot?

This Speaker is vengeful, political, and partisan. Anyone voting against him would fear they’d never be called again.

The House is sentimental, conservative and respectful. A sitting Speaker has an enormous power of incumbency.  A secret ballot is the only way of fairly holding a Speaker in check.

The fact that Labour is spitting tacks – and the fact they refer to Bercow as “our Speaker” – shows how partisan this issue is.

Labour have put a three-line whip on and are recalling Members from their constituencies. Protecting their Speaker is more important than fighting the election.

Knowing the depth and extent of Bercow’s artistry – is there any way, by some procedural trick that he can stop this Motion being voted on? “There’s nothing in the book to allow it,” says one who knows, “but then, he writes the book.”

Bercow has scheduled three UQs. This will at least give time for Labour MPs to get back from their constituencies.

Speaker Watch will be watching how this plays out during the day.

FINAL PMQs SKETCH: Commons Warns to Valedictory Dave

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There behind the PM were the Home Secretary looking sly, the Chancellor looking cruel and the Chief Whip looking even more pleased with himself than usual. Hard to imagine the Tories’ broadening their appeal with any of them.

Cameron was entirely relaxed, amiable, in charge. He flattened Miliband with his tax avoidance answers (no rise in VAT, he promised, I wonder how he’ll get out of that . . . oh! By resigning just before the rise!). He praised certain opposition members, teased them, laughed along with them. The Commons rather warmed to him and his valedictory ways.

Win or lose, Cameron has created and for five years held together an unlikely coalition and presided over an amazing period of job creation.

Gallery witnesses report Mrs Cameron and their daughter were up in the gallery, and little Nancy was punching the air when her father made some crushing sally. She might have felt superior in mental age to the scenes below. At the phrase “Alex Salmond’s poodle” the House went “Woof woof! Woof woof! Woof woof woof!”

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Speaker Watch: Bad Bercow’s Jesse Norman Low Blow

The Speaker has been behaving with almost perfect professionalism all this year. He knows his moment of mortal danger is approaching and is palliating his enemies in the House. But Bad Bercow can’t be kept down. He looked around the chamber this afternoon and saw his old enemy Jesse Norman (No. 14 on the order paper) not in his place. So very early, and well out of the running order, he called him. “Jesse Norman!” Nothing. “Jesse NORMAN! Is he not here?” He wasn’t going to take the chance that Norman had been momentarily delayed and would be in shortly.

Norman was a moving spirit of the Governance committee that humiliated Bercow in the fiasco of the new clerk’s appointment. “Got him!” Bercow would have thought.

The rush of applause that greeted Lindsay Hoyle taking the chair for the Budget debate shows that there is a popular contender for the position. A candidate makes the difference. Although Bercow seems to be carrying all before him, it is still possible to hope.

UPDATE: Guido understands that Norman was slightly delayed by a bicycle puncture.

Budget Day Sketch: Our Salad Days Lie Ahead

Runners-up for best Miliband joke: The prime minister’s: “He threw the kitchen sinks at the NHS and that didn’t work.” (Groans.) Balls wants to be in his kitchen cabinet but doesn’t know which one. (Groans.) “He literally doesn’t know where his next meal’s coming from.” (Laughter). Then Osborne (ref fast broadband): “So should someone have two kitchens, they will be able to control both fridges from the same mobile phone.” (Overwhelming laughter with stifled snorts from Labour.) But the winner, one of the few tax planning jokes to achieve a popular reaction: George Osborne said he’s reworking the legal basis for a Deed of Variation (Tory delight) and in the autumn will be consulting the leader of the opposition “if the party opposite hasn’t executed its own deed of variation by then.” (Fatter Tories straining at the seams.) “We liked that,” A Labour MP said. “It showed just how nasty Osborne is.”

The Long Term Economic Plan was the most daring plan when it was published – and its most devout supporters thought it was going to need some inspired statisticians to make it look as though it was working.

But it’s a rout.

All those things the PM says about jobs, growth, the deficit – you need to overwork your confirmation bias to argue against them.

So, Ed Miliband re-ran his greatest hits – and just kept running into the prime minister’s clunking fist. Why hadn’t he kept his promises on A&E waiting times? Why did he close hospitals? Why are cancer targets being missed? We know that some of these targets are being missed but many by tiny amounts. We know too that Labour closed hospitals. And that the Tories have spent more than Labour on health. The picture of medieval misery that Miliband sees in his Rorschach test is hard to share. And when he says, “Why on earth should anyone believe him?” some of us think: “Wasn’t that Iain Duncan Smith’s line?”

“A budget that no one will believe,” he said later.

Maybe parts of it will be contested, maybe there’ll be a pasty in it. But the previous leadership line was that state spending was going back to level of the Great Depression. Osborne said that state spending would stabilize at the level of 2001. That was when Gordon Brown was the greatest chancellor in the world (an active lefty sticking to Tory spending limits).

So, the impossible has been achieved. It used to be about jam tomorrow. Now, heady with its success, the Tory leadership is suggesting no jam at all. The budget plan says: “If you refrain from having this doughnut now, you can have a very large tuna salad in five years time.” No wonder Labour is less downcast than it ought to be.

PMQs SKETCH: Cameron’s Only Important Failure

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All these repeats on television. Miliband did the TV debates again. And again. All his questions. So much happening in the world and he wants to talk about a TV programme, the PM said. “He’s weak and despicable and wants to crawl to power on Alex Salmond’s coat tails.”

Despicable and weak. Ouch. Yes, that made Cameron’s supporters wince. An upstanding Tory, an Etonian, a natural leader with his easy grace and upper class charms – he can’t say those things and expect people to think Miliband is despicable as a result.

What people think is, “Why is the prime minister so exercised over someone like Ed Miliband?”

When Cameron displays the good manners of his class it reaches into parts of the electorate that politics don’t reach.

It’s a mark of Cameron’s only important failure that Miliband – a man who shouldn’t have been allowed out in public – has managed to drag him down to his level. Miliband calls him feeble and useless, Cameron calls him weak and despicable.

Miliband responds with a version of, “I know you are but what am I?”

The prime minister didn’t have to descend so far.

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PMQs SKETCH: Who are We and What are We Doing Here?

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It’s always exciting to discover a new low in PMQs. We’ve been bumping along the bottom since the New Year and here we had stomach-fluttering slump.

The prodigious noise in the chamber – so chamber reporters said – was mainly that of conversations between people trying to make themselves heard above other conversationalists. Half an opposition bench vacated itself before the end of play. The mood in the House was ‘Who are we and what are we doing here?’ (Answers in the comments.)

The Speaker, still smarting from his humiliation on Cockerell’s documentary, wore his fixed smile, barely tried to control the chamber. The prime minister kept reaching up to yank his tail. He mocked the Speaker’s verbosity. He caricatured his catchphrases. He pleased his Bercow-baiting back bench.

And while this is all very well, it must be said that the Speaker has won everything he needs to win. He is now unbeatable, unmoveable, invulnerable. The Tories have misread the threat, and funked the chance to bring to the floor of the House just before the half-term recess the only Motion that offers a chance of ousting him (to make the Speaker’s re-election a secret vote). He saw them funk it, and feels himself secure.

In a tight parliament, with irreconcilable parties, coalition government may not be a possibility. The powers of the Speaker will multiply. His collusion with Labour – already an established fact – will work against the Tory minority government. He will find a way – because he has a genius for these things – to by-pass the Queen and bring a Labour government to the Treasury benches.

And just about the time he should be resigning, he will preside over the Westminster exodus, to a continental-style, non-confrontational, horseshoe-shaped venue with individual desks and microphones – with his hand on the volume.

Remember, above all else, John Bercow is an artist of power, a grand master in the renaissance workshop tradition. And the Tories are just too cavalier, too amateur to deal with him. Tail-tweaking is an inadequate response.

We can only watch.

Next new depth: Ed Miliband’s achievement must not go unrecorded. A third world war is brewing, the European Union may be about to implode, religious maniacs have established a medieval tyranny just north of the Plain of Megiddo, and the Labour party itself faces an existential threat from the Scots Nats.

So, Miliband spent half his quota of questions on challenging Cameron to a television debate.

There is a rumour that Cameron was going to challenge Miliband to a television debate and has thus been outflanked. If this is the size of it, the opposition leader showed himself to be one pitiful pygmy.

Cameron asked which MPs were going to use the photo-op shots of Miliband on their leaflets. Most of the people who put their hands up were Scots Nats. There will be slaughter over the border and lose or win, Miliband will go down as the leader who destroyed his party.

Miliband: A Caricature of Incompetent Miserablism

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After Peter Tapsell’s intervention in PMQs, there was no obvious need to proceed with the Opposition Day move to ban MPs having paid directorships or consultancies.

This is the Labour leadership’s move to get some votes out of the Rifkind/Straw […]

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PMQs: Miliband’s Sixth Sense

The Sketch Team spent the morning drowning kittens to train for PMQs. Piteous sights and sounds we beheld, quite wither-wringing. On a positive note, we got through the carnage of Ed Miliband’s performance without a tear.

How the Tory dogs […]

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Inside the Commons: More Airtime For Bercow Critics Next Week

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Inside the Commons, the four-part documentary which began screening last night, was first floated by SACPE (the Speaker’s Absurd Committee on Public Engagement). The Speaker might have assumed that he, as the patron of the project, would get the lion’s […]

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PMQs: Ed’s Weapon Backfires

Is it a crime to provoke a hate crime?

Will Ed Miliband find himself in the dock for stirring up hatred against himself?

Labour feelings about their leader have traversed a spectrum starting with loyal embarrassment, moving through incredulity, to […]

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Quote of the Day

Liz Kendall at the Press Gallery lunch:

“We lost our shadow chancellor, but most people thought we had lost our balls before the election.”

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