If Boris thought he would be welcomed back into the parliamentary fray as a great statesman, he was quickly put in his place during Monday’s Queen’s Speech debate about Britain’s standing in the world:
Boris was quickly on his feet, trying to boost his foreign policy credentials:
“What can we do to prevent the appalling tragedy that might befall the great archaeological site in Palmyra, is there any hope he can offer?”
The Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond began courteously enough in his reply:
“I know my Honourable Friend is extremely concerned about this issue, but he will know that ISIL, for what it’s worth, have given some limited assurances about its intentions in regard to the site.”
But then he gave his potential rival a gentle slap:
“The problem of course is the principal instrument that the coalition has to deploy is air power, and he can well understand the difficulty of deploying air power to protect historical sites – that doesn’t make sense.”
Just as Boris will “well understand” a side swipe when he sees one…
· The Prime Minister: GAVIN WILLIAMSON
· Chancellor of the Exchequer – George Osborne – CHRIS SKIDMORE
· Home Secretary – Theresa May – MICHAEL ELLIS
· Foreign Secretary – Philip Hammond – CHRIS PINCHER
· Secretary of State for Justice – Michael Gove – ROBERT JENRICK
· Secretary of State for Defence – Michael Fallon – GRAHAM EVANS
· Secretary of State for Work and Pensions – Iain Duncan Smith – DAVID RUTLEY
· Secretary of State for Health – Jeremy Hunt – STEVE BRINE
· Leader of the Commons – Chris Grayling – MIKE FREER
· SoS for International Development – Justine Greening – ANDREW BINGHAM
· Secretary of State for Education – Nicky Morgan – ROBIN WALKER
· Leader of the House of Lords – Baroness Stowell – KWASI KWARTENG
· Secretary of State for Transport – Patrick McLoughlin – STUART ANDREW
· Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills – Sajid Javid – JOHN GLEN
· Secretary of State for Northern Ireland – Theresa Villiers – REBECCA HARRIS
· Secretary of State for DEFRA – Liz Truss – MARK SPENCER
· Secretary of State for DCLG – Greg Clark – HENRY SMITH
· Secretary of State for Wales – Stephen Crabb – DAVID MORRIS
· Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster – Oliver Letwin – ALOK SHARMA
· Secretary of State for DCMS – John Whittingdale – HEATHER WHEELER
· Secretary of State for Scotland – David Mundell – IAIN STEWART
· Secretary of State for DECC – Amber Rudd – PAUL MAYNARD
Ministers attending Cabinet:
· Chief Secretary to the Treasury – Greg Hands – JAKE BERRY
· DWP: Minister of State – Priti Patel – ALEC SHELBROOKE
· BIS: Minister of State – Anna Soubry – MARK PAWSEY
· Paymaster General – Matthew Hancock – GARETH JOHNSON
· Minister without Portfolio – Robert Halfon – ANDREW STEPHENSON
· Attorney General – Jeremy Wright – REHMAN CHISHTI
CONSERVATIVE PARTY APPOINTMENT
· Parliamentary Adviser to the Party Chairman – Lord Feldman – CHLOE SMITH
Ministers of State
· Grant Shapps – CHARLOTTE LESLIE
· Penny Mordaunt – OLIVER COLVILE
The SNP were determined to take the whole front-row of the opposition benches, to the left of the gangway in the Commons, in order mark their status as the third party. They even had MPs on a rota hogging the seats all morning in order to beat off the Labour awkward squad.
Five minutes before the Commons reconvened Denis Skinner turned up and promptly took his old seat. And that was that.
Yet it was not a complete disaster for the newbie Nats. Neanderthals such as Ronnie Campbell and Ian Lavery commanded no such respect and were forced to stand. The fun and games begin…
So, you poll-bumblers, you forecast freaks, you fee-generating ball-gazers. You used the latest scientific methods to make a small fortune for yourselves while none of you knew what you were talking about. You sold up, sold on, sold in your “90-per-cent-certain” predictions and they were fifty sorts of faeces wrapped up in a silk stocking.
You turn out to be as bad as economists.
Now you can only say: “We were wrong, but this sort of error is far from unprecedented.”
In the run up to the election we had this:
Electoral Calculus: No party will have an overall majority. The Conservatives might be 5-20 seats ahead of Labour . . . the bloc of Labour plus SNP is likely to be the largest grouping in parliament
FiveThirtyEight: Their model combines opinion polls, historical election results and census data. Oh, that’s going to make things better. Expected seats: Conservatives 278, Labour 267, Lib Dems 27.
Ipsos Mori: he SNP surge is slightly overstated, and therefore gap in seats between Labour and Conservatives will be small
Survation: CON 270-280 LAB 270-275 SNP 45 . . . Ed Miliband would then, on this basis be our most likely next prime minister, and Labour could be closer to the Conservatives in both votes and seats than is the current expectation.
YouGov: a knockout blow now looks virtually impossible.
Opinium: I expect the Conservatives to have a small lead on both vote-share and seats but far short of a majority and still short even with Liberal Democrat support. In this scenario Ed Miliband becomes prime minister with SNP support.
ComRes: The Tories look set to lose enough seats to Labour, and gain too few from the Lib Dems, for David Cameron to cling to power.
TNS: Stalemate. Conservatives and Labour cancelling each other out . . . The real drama will start on Friday.
Like ICM and Populus and who knows who else, Lord Ashcroft he predicted a tie, with Labour support rising sharply. Labour were going to win 87 seats and the Tories lose 31, the Lib Dems were down at 25.
As Owen Jones wrote: All too many of these commentators live in a bubble, patting each other on the back, largely agreeing on the big political issues of the day, quibbling only over nuances.
But then, the comment monkeys are in a class of their own as opinion fabricators, even below the pollsters.
Guido headed across the river to the Lib Dem Manifesto launch held in a Battersea warehouse that has been turned into a “creative space.” It was so creative that to accuses the venue, you had to wander down a graffiti strewn brick passageway that opened up into bizarre neon nightclub. At the front was a garishly lit cage where the main event would take place, while strewn around the edges were Maoist canvases of the dear leader himself in a number of ideological poses. Nick Clegg painting a wall, Nick Clegg watering vegtables, Nick Clegg holding a hammer…
All the press big wigs were there. Quentin Letts had positioned himself nonchalantly leaning against a rusty pillar at the front, sceptically surveying the sandal clad crowd, while Faisal Islam stood agitated at the back, pleading with his producer to stop patronising him. “Just speak clearly and I’ll be fine, I’m just going to do a show and tell”…
Clegg walked into the neon lit ring stage and with casual abandon began addressing the party faithful. “We made Britain better,” clap clap. “The Lib Dems would add heart to a Conservative government and a brain to a Labour one,” clap clap. “Most people want a a stronger economy and a fairer society,” clap clap. Farage bad. Salmond bad. Nick Clegg good, clap clap. The words were coming out with the rhythmic determination of a seppuku death poem.
With a final ripple of applause and the finishing line in sight, a relieved Clegg settled into taking questions with a rambling self-assuredness. But the venue gremlins weren’t going to be so kind. The sound system went haywire, someone kicked over a fancy LED uplight and the broadcasters gave up on waiting for the thing to finish and started broadcasting from the back in defiance of the hushing from the Lib Dem supporters.They should have spend less on fancy lights and more on a PA system…
33 government votes handed the day to Labour. 23 Tories:
David Amess Bob Blackman Peter Bone Graham Brady Conor Burns Christopher Chope Tracey Crouch Philip Davies David Davis Cheryl Gillan Zac Goldsmith James Gray Adam Holloway Bernard Jenkin Jeremy Lefroy Edward Leigh Julian Lewis Jack Lopresti David Nuttall Jacob Rees-Mogg Sir Richard Shepherd Martin Vickers Charles Walker
And 10 Liberals:
Malcolm Bruce Lorely Burt Duncan Hames David Heath Martin Horwood Dan Rogerson Bob Russell Jo Swinson Stephen Williams Simon Wright
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…
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.
Public votes as a show of loyalty with implicit menace have been the tool of insecure tyrants throughout history. Bercow if he had any honour would know that since he doesn’t command the respect of a substantial proportion of the House would go. He doesn’t. If as much as a quarter of the House has no confidence in the Speaker he should make way…
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!”
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.
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.
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?”
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.
No prizes for guessing who Andrea Leadsom is talking about:
“As you said last week, Mr Speaker, we have a responsibility to safeguard the rights of this House and as Leader of the House I seek to do exactly that, treating all members of parliament with courtesy and respect. I hope and expect all Honourable and Right Honourable members to do likewise.”