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Jerry Hayes

Labour expected a car crash at PMQs. They got one; Jack Straw, who made John Prescott look like Cicero.

July 21st, 2010 by Jerry Hayes

An eerie silence descended upon the House of Commons this afternoon when Nick Clegg became the first Liberal leader since 1922 to answer questions on behalf of the Prime Minister. On the Coalition side the big beasts were out in full force, Sir George Young to his left, George Osborne, William Hague and Vince Cable to his right. They looked as if they were  about to recreate the Charge of the Light Brigade. Clegg was as pale as Casper; Osborne and Hague figitty and nervous. There was the sour smell of fear hanging in the air. They were terrified that this was going to be half an hour of pure car crash. Then the moment came. That old survivor, that burier of bodies, that wily old fox, Jack Straw, rose. There was an evil twinkle in his eye, the beginnings of a malicious grin crossed his face. He could smell blood. God, this was going to be fun.  Behind him, Labour backbenchers still smarting from being betrayed by the evil perfidious, Lib Dem, turncoats, gripped pitchforks and an array of nooses. This was payback. This was going to be a lynching.  And to the roars of the mob behind him Straw went in for the kill. Except it wasn’t. It was six questions of stream of consciousness rant. It was disjointed. It rambled. It made John Prescott look like Cicero. It was a total disaster. Straw, Labour’s Beria, didn’t lay a glove on him. In many ways it was rather sad. This was Jack’s last Hurrah. It should have been a swashbuckling end to the old pirate’s career. In the end it was more buckle than swash.

You could see the Tory benches visibly relax. They regard PMQs as if it were a Premier division football match. If your hero doesn’t leave the pitch covered in his opponent’s blood he is a failure. It becomes death by a thousand whispers. Clegg was confident, masterful and humorous.  He charmed the Tories from the trees. He even heaped praise on that old rightwinger, Andrew Rosindell. Well “heaped” is an understatement. He laid it on with a trowel. Rosindell was even referred to as, “my honourable friend”. In the end he was purring like a cat that got the cream.

Nick Clegg achieved two things this afternoon, he dominated the chamber with a mastery of his brief.  But most important of all, he gained something precious from the most unforgiving and ruthless audience in the world; respect.  I looked at the haggard faces of the Milibands. They didn’t like it one little bit. A sneerless Osborne left the chamber. Was it my imagination or did he look rather proud?

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PMQS:Punch didn’t just hug Judy, he almost rammed his tongue down her throat and rogered her on the back benches

June 2nd, 2010 by Jerry Hayes

Can you imagine the air of Gothic gloom that descended upon the Prime Ministerial study when he first heard that cerebral maverick Douglas Carswell, Dan Hannan’s representative on earth, was to ask the first PMQ today? If Cameron dived for the Nokia, it was not to imprint on the brow of his Chief of Staff, Ed Llwellyn, but to call the Chief Whip. “Patrick, it’s bloody Carswell. Sort it, but I don’t want to see any marks”. So off would lumber McLochlan, clutching government issue electrodes, searching for a spare battery and Carswell. As it happened, The Chief Whip did his job beautifully, there was only a hint of mischief in his question about electing the Lords.

But what was so remarkable about this PMQs was that it was so devoid of tribal politics. Punch didn’t just hug Judy, he almost rammed his tongue down her throat, ripped off her knickers and rogered her on the backbenches. Gone was the clunking fist, the recitation of the latest achievements in tractor production, replaced with what appeared to be a genuine attempt to answer questions. Cameron even welcomed new Labour members to their seats. One wonders how long this will last.

But what really must have almost returned Cameron’s Camelot to Brown’s Gormanghast, was a quick read of today’s Carswell blog which disapproved of planted questions. What?  Aaargh! Quick, get the Prozac!  The trouble is whole system relies on planted questions, because  MPs are either too dim or too lazy to put anything of any useful coherence down in writing. Government’s plant questions to showcase their achievements and Oppositions plant questions to show what total tossers the government are. PMQs are one notch up. The government wants to put their PM in the best possible light and the rest just want to dangle his blood soaked genitalia from the chandeliers. And I speak as someone who made  planting questions an art form. And darn hard work it is too. First, patrol the bars like some grubby door to door salesman; buy a few drinks, get some of the guys to agree; draft some helpfuls; draft the supplementary; make sure your guys are in their place in the chamber reasonably sober; follow each line and then write a letter of groveling thanks.

Now I do hope that PMQs remains at 3pm. It will add to the jollity simply because it is after lunch and many MPs will be well refreshed, as will the sketch writers. I couldn’t get a whiff the Johnny Walker aftershave this afternoon as everyone was on their best behavior. But that won’t last for long. Slightly squiffy MPs can get rather excitable and add spice to the sheer unpredictability of the place. I can remember being on my feet asking a question, only to be seized by the arms by two drunken Knights of the Shire and dangled directly above Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson. Sadly, such high jinks were never recorded as this was in the days before Parliament was televised. But the collector can find archived delights such as a comatose fatty Soames snoring away like the Empress of Emsworth and the splendid Nicky Fairbairn collaspsing in a vodka sodden heap after asking Thatcher a question. Although my all time favourite was delightfully drunken Tony Beaumont Dark asking a question with such force that his dentures flew across the chamber and nearly embedded themselves in Dennis Skinner. That was nearly a bridge too far.

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