Today’s PMQs

The first of the new Lib-Con parliamentary era.

A rather sombre start to a historic (and delayed) PMQs today, given the horrific shootings in Cumbria and (as usual) the cross-party nod to the latest tragic and pointless deaths of British squaddies in Afghanistan.

The Tory backbencher Douglas Carswell kicked off proceedings by asking whether or not there would be a bill to ensure Lords reform in the next 12 months and, specifically, that "all our lawmakers" will be elected.

The Prime Minister's answer? "There will be a draft motion by December, which the House can vote on. I've always supported a predominantly elected House of Lords." He used the phrase "predominantly elected " again, later, in the same answer.

So, not quite a whole-hearted "yes" from Cameron, I would argue. Others might disagree and I suppose they'd have a point: 70 or 80 per cent elected is better than nothing. Labour failed on Lords reform.

Once again, Harriet Harman, the acting Labour leader, did a solid, assured and competent job at the despatch box. Her first few questions were on the Middle East and on the coalition's plan to grant anonymity to rape defendants, which elicited mature and serious responses from the Prime Minister. For a moment, we were actually witnessing a grown-up, non-Punch-and-Judy discussion between the party leaders in the House. But it also meant we had to wait until Harman switched the subject to the married couple's tax allowance to hear the raucous cheering, braying or booing from all sides that we normally associate with PMQs.

To loud Labour cheers, Harman, for example, mocked Cameron's claim that a £3-a-week allowance would keep couples together and prevent the "family breakdowns" he believes are the cause of so much of this nation's poverty, crime and antisocial behaviour. I noticed Nick Clegg sitting quietly behind Cameron, smiling awkwardly as the Prime Minister made the case for this particular tax break. So did Harman, who had come prepared with this particular zinger: "On this... Nick agrees with me." (Clegg, you will remember, described the Tory proposals on marriage, during the election campaign, as "patronising drivel that belong in the Edwardian age. David Cameron clearly has no idea about modern life.")

As the BBC's political correspondent Mike Sergeant pointed out:

This will surely be Labour's tactic every week -- their aim will be to make Nick Clegg squirm. But the Lib Dem leader seemed comfortable enough as Mr Cameron batted this one away.

Seeing as Cameron has long seen himself as the "heir to Blair", it shouldn't have been a surprise to see Tory backbenchers behaving in 2010 as their New Labour counterparts did in 1997: loyally, slavishly, uncritically, robotically.

Adam Holloway, MP for Gravesham, who claimed £1.95 for lightbulbs on his expenses, moaned about overspending by the previous government. The newly elected MP for Stratford-on-Avon, Nadim Zahawi, the first Iraqi Kurd to ask a question at PMQs, chose not to ask about the chaos in his country of origin, or the concerns of his new constituents in Shakespeareland, but instead asked the Prime Minister if he was surprised that so many civil servants earned more than him. The newly elected MP for Stroud, Neil Carmichael, asked Cameron if his local maternity unit could count on the Prime Minister's support. I started to feel my lunch coming up...

Then again, the Labour members weren't much better. I couldn't count a single question that put the Prime Minister on the spot or challenged him in any significant way. The opposition will have to raise its game in the coming weeks. David Cameron, to borrow a pre-election phrase from Andrew Marr, "is on a roll".

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Commons Confidential: Dave's picnic with Dacre

Revenge is a dish best served cold from a wicker hamper.

Sulking David Cameron can’t forgive the Daily Mail editor, Paul Dacre, for his role in his downfall. The unrelenting hostility of the self-appointed voice of Middle England to the Remain cause felt pivotal to the defeat. So, what a glorious coincidence it was that they found themselves picnicking a couple of motors apart before England beat Scotland at Twickenham. My snout recalled Cameron studiously peering in the opposite direction. On Dacre’s face was the smile of an assassin. Revenge is a dish best served cold from a wicker hamper.

The good news is that since Jeremy Corbyn let Theresa May off the Budget hook at Prime Minister’s Questions, most of his MPs no longer hate him. The bad news is that many now openly express their pity. It is whispered that Corbyn’s office made it clear that he didn’t wish to sit next to Tony Blair at the unveiling of the Iraq and Afghanistan war memorial in London. His desire for distance was probably reciprocated, as Comrade Corbyn wanted Brigadier Blair to be charged with war crimes. Fighting old battles is easier than beating the Tories.

Brexit is a ticket to travel. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is lifting its three-trip cap on funded journeys to Europe for MPs. The idea of paying for as many cross-Channel visits as a politician can enjoy reminds me of Denis MacShane. Under the old limits, he ended up in the clink for fiddling accounts to fund his Continental missionary work. If the new rule was applied retrospectively, perhaps the former Labour minister should be entitled to get his seat back and compensation?

The word in Ukip is that Paul Nuttall, OBE VC KG – the ridiculed former Premier League professional footballer and England 1966 World Cup winner – has cold feet after his Stoke mauling about standing in a by-election in Leigh (assuming that Andy Burnham is elected mayor of Greater Manchester in May). The electorate already knows his Walter Mitty act too well.

A senior Labour MP, who demanded anonymity, revealed that she had received a letter after Leicester’s Keith Vaz paid men to entertain him. Vaz had posed as Jim the washing machine man. Why, asked the complainant, wasn’t this second job listed in the register of members’ interests? She’s avoiding writing a reply.

Years ago, this column unearthed and ridiculed the early journalism of George Osborne, who must be the least qualified newspaper editor in history. The cabinet lackey Ben “Selwyn” Gummer’s feeble intervention in the Osborne debate has put him on our radar. We are now watching him and will be reporting back. My snouts are already unearthing interesting information.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution