PMQs SKETCH: If this is war it’s extremely polite

We’re just waiting, aren’t we? Just starting the second trimester. The labour for Labour is months away but Harriet is very sensibly taking things easy. In the autumn, she’s hoping for the great cry, “It’s a girl!” Pessimists in the centre are expecting, “It’s a boy!” But realists anticipate a great rush of wind and the announcement, “Sorry everyone. Phantom pregnancy. Back to the mattresses and start again.”

In the interim, Harriet seems to have lost the will even to “stick it to the Tories.” Her first question asked him how he could stick it to the French. Tempting question for an English prime minister. He stuck it to the Italians instead. Her second question asked him if “he could say a bit more about strengthening security,” and he said there was “no point in pointing the finger of blame.” If this is war it’s extremely polite. It’s the other sort of civil war.

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A Glimpse Into the Sort of PMQs Bercow is Trying to Make the Norm

So, there’s a prime minister in waiting. Gallery reports of his sneeriness should be discounted.

True, even when he isn’t sneering, he still wears a sub-cutaneous sneer, an impression of a sneer, some sort of metaphysical sneer plays around him like the smile of Lewis Carroll’s cat. But for us in the television audience, George Osborne was controlled, confident and across all that stuff prime ministers have to pretend to know about.

Deradicalisation, for instance. By a happy chance, his prepared joke about Hilary Benn prefaced his remarks on the teenage suicide bomber who blew himself up. For a jihadist to be remembered in Parliament as an adjunct to an indifferent joke about Labour party Bennites is a very fitting memorial.

The deputy leader of Labour is now the leader and her deputy seems to be this Benn fellow. He produced a series of sensible, dutiful questions which got the Commons talking excitedly (about who was winning what election for which committee chair). It’s a glimpse into the sort of PMQs that Speaker Bercow is trying to make the norm. Nothing will turn people off politics more thoroughly.

It’s still possible to hope Jeremy Corbyn will be up there at the despatch box after the Conferences. Are there 50,000 mental lefties out there? Democratic jihadists who’ll infiltrate the Labour Party and blow it to glory?

Now more than ever we need the audacity of hope.

At any rate – an utterly uneventful afternoon in which Tory spines were stiffened at the prospect of a plausible successor and a Tory government through the 20s.

If this was his audition for First Lord of the Treasury he’ll certainly get a call-back.

PMQ’s SKETCH: Where Was the Eton Gloating Song?

Harriet was always going to use that line about gloating.

The PM is back to his easy, lordly form. He deflected hostile questions (“It’s an important point she raises.”) He congratulated opposition MPs. He made a pretty decent UKIP joke that made Douglas Carswell laugh – “He has made political history. As a party of one he’s had a backbench rebellion.”

He has all the characteristics the country expects from a decent, moderate Conservative. So Harriet had her work cut out to make a sow’s ear out of the silk purse that is our prime minister.

She had it all worked out. She was going to define him in the public mind before he could define himself.

At the outset he had made laughing reference to Labour MPs voting for an EU referendum. He called the occasion “the biggest mass conversion since that Chinese general baptised his troops with a hosepipe.” He could have said anything. It didn’t matter what it was. In defiance of what was happening in front of her, Harriet came back with the one she had already prepared: She said: “He won the election. He’s the prime minister.” (Huge Tory cheers. So far, so accurate.) “He doesn’t need to be ranting and sneering and gloating . . .”

As ranting, it didn’t qualify. The sneering was absent. And the Eton Gloating Song hadn’t even got to the humming stage.

But it was very Labour.

Setting out to fit facts to theory, no matter what the reality. Continue reading

PMQs SKETCH: New Parliament, Old PMQs

With the arrival of 182 new MPs, two new TV camera angles and a new hierarchy for old party rivals, you might have been forgiven for hoping that the first Prime Minister’s Questions of the new Parliament would herald a new dawn in British politics.

But, like the party manifestos of the election campaign just a few short weeks ago, PMQs promised a lot but delivered very little.

In all honesty, it was never going to be a tough one for David Cameron.

Still puffed up from his election victory, with crowded benches of grateful Tory MPs behind him and bewildered Labour members opposite, no one expected to land a punch on Cameron today.

It was all change on the green leather benches around him, with Tory MPs crowding onto the seats previously occupied by their erstwhile Liberal Democrat colleagues, SNP MPs smirking from the seats where Labour used to sit and the last remaining Liberal Democrats desperately trying to find anywhere to sit at all.

That said, Nick Clegg looked only marginally less miserable squeezed onto his backbench pew than he did when he sat stony-faced next to David Cameron as his deputy for five long years.

Harriet Harman, meanwhile, standing at the despatch box as Labour’s interim leader – for the second time in her career – looked like she wished her pink battle bus would arrive to whisk her away anywhere but here.

Despite rumours that the diminished Labour ranks would now get only four questions, Harman got the usual six, although she would probably have preferred the Liberal Democrats’ allocation of just one question every few weeks – and, frankly, so did everyone else.

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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Rod Liddle:

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