PMQs SKETCH: Titanic Fights in the Commons

Cosy capitalism against Socialism, sir. Public versus private ownership. Primrose Hill versus the Playing Fields of Eton. Tax cuts versus the Collective. Labour bellowing versus Tory barrage.

My niche interest is the fight between Better Bercow and Bad Bercow.

The new iteration – I-Don’t-Hate-Tories – is a success. We should pay tribute to it, celebrate it rather than carp.

But Better Bercow can’t keep Bad Bercow in its kennel.

What must be going in that inner court of his, where he remonstrates with himself: “Your constant interruptions are just prolonging the proceedings. Your attention-seeking behaviour is childish, you need to grow up and the sooner the better. And the way you call Andrew Selous – the public detest it! Your electorate hate it! If you go on like this they’ll have you out after the next election!”

Good Bercow has been prevailing, but when provoked, Bad Bercow slips the leash.

We can thank Simon Burns for that. Or that corner where he sits with Alec Shelbrooke in a supporting role behind him. Anna Soubry, Tim Loughton and Keith Simpson, are all there or thereabouts, each of whom have had complex relations with the Speaker.

So, when Czaibhaggan MacDonagh fluffed her line about the “Bobby Tax”, it prompted heckling from the Burns Corner.

Out Bad Bercow slavered, fangs bared, to savage them as he only savages Tories: “Braying, and sneering and making rude remarks is the sort of thing the public despise!” he barked at them.

But three points Bad Bercow’s keeper might consider:

“Braying and sneering” is a rude remark by any measure and an example of what he is complaining about. Second, the microphone arrangements being as they are, the public wouldn’t have been aware of any braying and sneering without him having made a West End hit of it. And third, it is by no means clear the public despise rude remarks at all.

In other battle news. The noise was amazing, I’m told, by floor-level Members. “Answer! Answer! Answer!” Labour chanted so loudly they couldn’t hear what answers might be.

Cameron was being asked what the share price of Royal Mail was now and how £750m had been lost, and what had happened to the “gentleman’s agreement” not to sell shares quickly, and nobody wanted the sale and nobody voted for it.

Labour liked all this and felt the shafts going home. To me it sounded like Violet Elizabeth Bott. You’ll have your own view.

Labour took comfort from Cameron’s line, “Nobody wanted it? It was in your manifesto!” which has, at best, a poetic truth in it.

Labour has to wave away the Gordon Brown gold sale (£9bn below the current price), and pretend that they would have got a better price for Royal Mail. Their leadership team do believe they can predict the economic cycle, remember.

But Cameron’s responses seem to me to be pulling slowly away from the level of the questions and of his questioners. Tax cuts, record employment and worker-shareholders is set against Labour’s “Aren’t things expensive these days?”

Vote for Your Job may be worth 10 polling points on election day. That’s the bet. Labour’s clairvoyance may turn out to be less clear than they are claiming now.




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