PMQs sketch: Insults abound as quaffing beckons

Dave not so chillaxed after questions on vino and socialism.

Ed Balls may or may not be useful to the Labour Party as Shadow Chancellor, but as insulter-in-chief to the Prime Minister he has no match.
Having already been awarded the title of "most annoying man in modern politics" by Dave at a previous encounter, you might have thought that the old Brown bruiser would have been content to rest on his laurels.

But the smell of blood-to-be during the latest round of what purported to be Prime Ministers Questions proved once again too tempting for someone who has got far enough up the PM's nose to operate on his adenoids.

And Ed B was back excavating at his best today when he managed to produce another quality aside from the PM.

Having worked on him for 25 minutes with a variety of selected insults from his notes on bear baiting, Ed finally hit the Dave release button  with an apparent aside about how many glasses of wine the Prime Minister may have had.

Let us point out immediately this was not to suggest Dave had quaffed a couple on his way to the Commons to calm his nerves - but rather a reference to weekend reports that our "chillaxing" PM is reported to knock back a half a bottle of what passes for Vino Collapso in his circles with his Sunday roast.

These reports caused further consternation among the we-are-not-too-sure-about-Dave faction which is being sponsored by the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph. The PM was unhappy, to say the least, with Ed B's contribution from what is known in the House of Commons as a "sedentary position" - and in the real world as sitting down.

Thus Dave rebuked "this muttering idiot sitting opposite me" to the delight of all sides, who had become a bit bored with proceedings anyway as sunshine and quaffing elsewhere beckoned.

Now among the many arcane rules of the Commons chamber is the one that says you can say what you like  as long as the Speaker doesn't hear it - which is just as well for John Bercow bearing in mind what many MPs say about him.

As both sides swapped whatever insults came to hand and Tories demanded more retribution from their leader, Speaker Bercow kept shouting order which seemed rather apposite following the original Ed B insult.

Dave agreed to withdraw the word "idiot" but with all the reluctance of someone who realised he could have withdrawn something considerably ruder had he not been poked so sharply.

Sadly for some the insult that was not withdrawn during PMQs was the shocking suggestion made by a multi-million pound pal of the Prime Minister that the Business Secretary Vince Cable was "a socialist".

The afore-mentioned multi, who made his money forecasting other people's disasters, had shot to sudden fame with a report on cutting red tape for business to encourage employment. One of the more novel ways would be to scrap employment protection, which he admitted could let bosses sack workers just because they didn't like them.

Vince described his plan as "bonkers" - a word clearly only ever used by Karl Marx - and he was immediately denounced.

Proud of demonstrating their Lib-Dem credentials in the coalition government, Vince and his leader Nick Clegg were missing from the Chamber to the relief of Dave and the sadness of the Labour leader Ed Miliband, who could only warm up the PM for the eventual Flashman moment won by his alter-Ed.

Throughout all the jolly proceedings seasoned watchers will have noted the thousand-yard stare of Chancellor George who only absent-mindedly rubbed the bruised parts of his now decidedly un-chillaxed best buddy Dave.

The PM trotted out the European Court of Human Rights - far more threatening than Karl Marx - to try to get back onside with his critics, but you could see his relief when the Speaker thought the nation had had enough and called time.

Meanwhile, Frank Field said the Food Bank believed they would be feeding 500,000 people by the next election.

Photograph: Getty Images

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

Felipe Araujo
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Manchester's Muslim community under siege: "We are part of the fabric of this nation"

As the investigation into last week's bombing continues, familiar media narratives about Islam conflict with the city's support for its Muslim population.

“You guys only come when something like this happens,” said one of the worshippers at Manchester's Victoria Park Mosque, visibly annoyed at the unusual commotion. Four days after the attack that killed 22 people, this congregation, along with many others around the city, is under a microscope.

During Friday prayers, some of the world’s media came looking for answers. On the eve of Ramadan, the dark shadow of terrorism looms large over most mosques in Manchester and beyond.

“People who do this kind of thing are no Muslims,” one man tells me.

It’s a routine that has become all too familiar to mosque goers in the immediate aftermath of a major terror attack. In spite of reassurances from authorities and the government, Muslims in this city of 600,000 feel under siege. 

“The media likes to portray us as an add-on, an addition to society,” Imam Irfan Christi tells me. “I would like to remind people that in World War I and World War II Muslims fought for this nation. We are part of the fabric of this great nation that we are.”

On Wednesday, soon after it was revealed the perpetrator of last Monday’s attack, Salman Ramadan Abedi, worshipped at the Manchester Islamic Centre in the affluent area of Didsbury, the centre was under police guard, with very few people allowed in. Outside, with the media was impatiently waiting, a young man was giving interviews to whoever was interested.

“Tell me, what is the difference between a British plane dropping bombs on a school in Syria and a young man going into a concert and blowing himself up,” he asked rhetorically. “Do you support terrorists, then?” one female reporter retorted. 

When mosque officials finally came out, they read from a written statement. No questions were allowed. 

“Some media reports have reported that the bomber worked at the Manchester Islamic Centre. This is not true,” said the director of the centre’s trustees, Mohammad el-Khayat. “We express concern that a very small section of the media are manufacturing stories.”

Annoyed by the lack of information and under pressure from pushy editors, eager for a sexy headline, the desperation on the reporters’ faces was visible. They wanted something, from anyone, who had  even if a flimsy connection to the local Muslim community or the mosque. 

Two of them turned to me. With curly hair and black skin, in their heads I was the perfect fit for what a Muslim was supposed to look like.

"Excuse me, mate, are you from the mosque, can I ask you a couple of questions,” they asked. “What about?,” I said. "Well, you are a Muslim, right?" I laughed. The reporter walked away.

At the Victoria Park Mosque on Friday, Imam Christi dedicated a large portion of his sermon condemning last Monday’s tragedy. But he was also forced to once again defend his religion and its followers, saying Islam is about peace and that nowhere in the Koran it says Muslims should pursue jihad.

“The Koran has come to cure people. It has come to guide people. It has come to give harmony in society,” he said. “And yet that same Koran is being described as blood thirsty? Yet that same Koran is being abused to justify terror and violence. Who de we take our Islam from?”

In spite of opening its doors to the world’s media, mosques in Britain’s major cities know they can do very little to change a narrative they believe discriminates against Muslims. They seem to feel that the very presence of reporters in these places every time a terror attack happens reveals an agenda.

Despite this, on the streets of Manchester it has proved difficult to find anyone who had a bad thing to say about Islam and the city’s Muslim community. Messages of unity were visible all over town. One taxi driver, a white working-class British man, warned me to not believe anything I read in the media.

“Half of my friends are British Muslims,” he said even before asked. “ These people that say Islam is about terrorism have no idea what they are talking about.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.

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