Today we discovered the difference between a threat and a promise.
For years we’ve been promised that a calmer, more serious House during Prime Minister’s Questions would be good for the whole country. Less ya-boo and more speaking up for constituents with real problems.
Well, that’s pretty much what we got today, and I doubt if I’m the only person watching who thought it was bloody dull.
As for the threat – well, didn’t the EU referendum threaten the unity of the Tory Party? Wouldn’t PMQs descend into cat-calls and insults between David Cameron and his backbenchers, as well as between his MPs? There was oddly none of that today and there better be some fireworks soon or else ordinary hacks – not to mention ordinary voters – are going to tune out on pretty short order.
Corbyn didn’t help, naturally. The man could perform a semi-naked pole dance and he would still bore you to sleep. So banging on, for all six questions, about education (first nursery, then primary, then secondary) left his own side looking slightly relieved. After all, he might have gone on something he feels really passionately about, like Trident. But they also looked, well, not quite there. Most of his front bench were staring into space, probably imagining what they were going to have for lunch after this was over, or trying to remember if they’d watched the latest episode of The X-Files…
Dave did his usual – read out some statistics which proved, after all, that he’s just brilliant. His weekly “joke” has become as tired and lame as Jezza’s personalised emails. Today he had a go at Labour for hiring Marxist tzatziki connoisseur Yanis Varoufakis as an adviser, labeling the decision as (Jesus…) “Acropolis Now”. As promotion-seeking Tories slapped their thighs to try to contain their mirth, Jez just kept his head down and read all his questions out without even a thought about maybe challenging anything Dave said. Did you know the Leader of the Opposition draws the equivalent of a ministerial salary for doing this job? No, I don’t know why either.
When Speaker Bercow called Bernard Jenkin, there was much anticipation that at last we’d get the EU row we had all hoped for. But his name was called and nobody stood up. “Where is the fella?” shouted Bercow. Remember when you were at school, how excited everyone got if someone brought a dog into class? Well, that’s MPs when someone whose name’s on the Order Paper at PMQs doesn’t show up. Much laughter (affected and hysterical) ensued until Bernie’s stunt double, David Davis, was called in his stead to ask what was probably the same question – about immigration from the EU. Dave quickly (and accurately) referred to this as a “single transferable question”.
Boom-tish, as they say.
A succession of earnest and genuinely worthy questions dominated, covering knife crime, meningitis, apprenticeships, and the awful prospect of murderers getting off with it because of their lordships recent judgment on the “joint enterprise” rule.
Thank God, then, for some good old West Midlands jingoism. And who better to fly that flag than Dudley’s own Ian Austin, sounding like an angry Noddy Holder. What British veteran would want to receive a medal engraved with “Fabricé en France?” he demanded to know, referring to recent reports that the government has outsourced this vital manufacturing function to our nearest European neighbour. “Get this scandal sorted out!” Austin told the PM. Dave said he hadn’t heard of this particular issue (really, Prime Minister?) but said he’s speak to the Cabinet Office about it. One to watch, I would think.
Perhaps not noticing that the Tory war on Europe had failed to materialise at this session, Labour veteran Barry Sheerman advised Dave to copy Harold Wilson’s example and “stand up to the rebels in his own party”. Except Harold did nothing of the kind – he did exactly what Dave’s now doing, and gave his recalcitrant ministers the right to campaign against him while keeping their jobs.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose, as Ian Austin definitely wouldn’t say.
*Headline to make PMQs sound more interesting.