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Political sketch: "Flashman" Dave asserts himself

But attacking a pensioner during election week is always bad form.

New Statesman
A member of the protest group Avaaz holds puppets depicting David Cameron (L) and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Photograph: Getty Images

With United playing City in the most important derby game since the beginning of time you would have thought that MPs had better things to do before the match than bother the nation with politics.

Indeed, that was David Cameron’s gamble as he tried yet again to re-launch his political career after yet another of the worst weeks since his last worst week — the week before last.

But that was before Speaker Bercow intervened to give the Prime Minister the biggest dose of double dromedary since predecessor Gordon took the hump and headed for the Scottish hills two years ago.

His new beginning hadn’t exactly got off to a brilliant start anyway, what with the latest opinion polls showing the Tories double-digits behind Labour in the polls, Dave’s personal rating down again and local elections results due on Thursday.

But at least he thought he’d parked his present headache, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt’s love-in with the Murdoch family, with the Leveson inquiry, thereby giving him a few weeks grace.

But that was before Speaker John agreed to a Labour bid to haul the PM back into the Commons for one final roasting before they all disappeared until the Queen's Speech.

The Speaker's relations with Dave are said to be on the cold side of frozen stiff — but that was tropically warm compared to the atmosphere in the House of Commons as the Prime Minister turned up for his telling-off.

You could tell there would be no severe bashing today as the PM sat down with the embattled Jeremy firmly stapled to his side. And the danger of doing Commons business after lunch became immediately obvious as fans on both sides of the terraces let loose with the insults even before a fact was mentioned.

Ed Miliband, egged on by the Labour version of the Kop, hardly had to poke his stick into the PM before he was off and shouting foul and much worse. Ed demanded an immediate inquiry into relations between the Culture Secretary and the Murdochs in a sure-footed performance of someone who knows the high moral ground when he is standing on it. And Dave could only bluster in reply having pointedly reminded the Speaker that he’d said all this at Prime Ministers Questions last week.

Jeremy, breathing in and out like a goldfish with asthma, almost nodded his head off as his leader pronounced him not guilty — for the moment — and Chancellor George pressed even closer to him to prevent any attempt to flee the scene.

Notably absent from the PM’s other side was his Deputy Nick Clegg who, aware that his own deputy Simon Hughes was to back calls for an early inquiry, had chosen to go AWOL as indeed had the rest of the side of the coalition he provides.

As Dave’s temper grew shorter and shorter, the volume on his side grew louder apace, persuading Speaker Bercow to pour further oil on the flames by calling for calm.

It was to no avail and the PM’s well-known "Flashman" tendency finally asserted itself when Dennis Skinner made one of his traditionally blunt contributions, only to be told to take retirement and get his pension. Attacking pensioners in an election week is always bad form and even Dave’s side blanched a bit.

It was left finally to the wonderfully irrelevant Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Tory MP who looks and sounds exactly like his name, to say that only  “a socialist yahoo” would rush to make a decision. Ed could only smile at the compliment.