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.

With a host of hot topics to choose from last week’s Queen’s Speech, Harman went for a two-pronged attack on the Tory plan to extend the Right To Buy to tenants in housing association homes and the upcoming welfare cuts.

She asked her six questions and Cameron responded by asking her questions right back.

To be fair, this weekly event is called Prime Minister’s Questions and not Prime Minister’s Answers, but even based on random chance you’d think at least one answer would occasionally slip out just by accident. It didn’t but no one seemed to care.

While Harman focused on Tory broken promises, Cameron returned again and again to his theme of Labour’s failure to understand and applaud “aspiration”.

A crowing Prime Minister batted away every attack, accusing the Labour party of being “the enemies of aspiration”, claiming that party’s belief in aspiration lasted only three weeks past election day.

He then went for the jugular saying that while “the two people responsible” for Labour’s policies – the two Eds – had lost an election and a seat between them: “The messengers have gone but the message is still the same”.

As the questions rolled in from all sides of the House, Cameron grew cockier and cockier by the minute, while the ranks of Labour leadership and deputy leadership candidates crowded onto the front bench looked more and more downcast.

The Prime Minister even did his best to encourage a newly elected MP to join them, congratulating Labour’s Cat Smith for “making more sense” than all the contenders and urging her to “run for leader!”

But whatever her aspirations, Cameron was not about to let go of his theme any time soon, angrily telling Labour’s Rachel Maskell: “On this side of the House, we understand home ownership, aspiration, people wanting to get on. The party opposite, after the most catastrophic election defeat in years, can’t even begin to spell ‘aspiration’.”

While there was little graciousness in victory, there was still less hope in defeat.

If Labour frontbenchers aspire to ever be on the other side of the despatch box again, they are going to need more than questions. They are going to need some answers too.

Simon Carr is away.




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Quote of the Day

Sky’s Faisal Islam on the mood in Parliament at the moment:

“It’s a totally febrile atmosphere here. It’s kind of like Game of Thrones meets House of Cards – and if you chuck in the Labour Party – Laurel and Hardy too.”

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