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Dave agreed to withdraw the word "idiot" but with all the reluctance of someone who realised he could have withdrawn something considerably ruder had he not been poked so sharply.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

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.