PMQs sketch: Large without Little

Cameron without Clegg

In 20 days time MPs, just back from their Whitsun break, will pack in work for the summer and take two months off. Yesterday many of them appeared to be in training.

The benches are normally packed for the weekly bun-fight which masquerades as Prime Ministers Questions, but political ennui if not men's quarter-finals dayat Wimbledon -- and you know how bad the traffic can be there -- appeared to have set in. (And then of course there are the strikes).

Even before it began, the whispers went up about the most notable absentee: "Where is he", was being mouthed as fingers pointed towards the Government front bench.

It was Large without Little for here was Dave without Nick. We knew they hadn't been getting on and they had said they would send time apart, but seeing it in reality was a shocker.

Where Nick normally sat slumped despondently in his seat, sallow-faced waiting for his weekly diet of insults from all sides of the house, including his own, now sat a vision in pink -- the Secretary of State for Wales.

In fact, as you looked down the Government benches you saw it as Dave had hoped it would be last May -- just Tories in sight. Even Ken Clarke, still on parole for his continued indiscretions, lounged expansively and awake just out of distance from the Prime Minister. If you stared into the murk you could make out the ghostly figures of Cable and Huhne edging their way towards the exit.

Nick, we discovered later, had been sent to Birmingham -- which in these cost-conscious days must be a little bit closer than Coventry .

But if Nick is no longer reliable at least Dave knows that his real BF George, aka the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will always be there. And so it was today.

The Prime Minister has had such a hard time at PMQs in recent weeks at the hands of Labour leader, Ed Miliband, that George positions himself as if prepared to rugby tackle Dave if he tries to do a runner.

Ed has developed a neat technique of swotting up on some of the more mathematical details of Government policies and demanding the haples PM answer them. This technique of course goes against the historical grain of PMQs when questions could be safely ignored and answers given to things you had not asked about. After all, it's not called Prime Ministers Answers.

Ed has managed to bring out the bully in Dave through this approach, causing concern on the Tory side at the ease with which their leader can be wound up. To this end George is stationed by his side to provide comfort, backbone, and pass on any facts he manages to pick up from his Cabinet chums in the brief periods of respite from Ed's attempts to poke his eye out.

And so the stage was set yesterday for another mauling and Dave looked out of sorts even before Ed got to his feet..... but then it all went a bit wrong, maybe this time for Ed.

With 750,000 voters due out on strike tomorrow Dave knew he was in for a hard time and decided to kick off PMQs with a restatement of his "no need for strikes" position, which met with ritual baying from his side of the house.

Ed shot to his feet and straight into a detailed question of redundancies in the National Health Service. Dave stumbled and flapped, George tightened his grip and Ed was at him again about detail and the NHS.

The "crimson tide", as Labour calls Dave 's rapid colour change above the collar, was clearly in evidence as the Prime Minister had no worthwhile reply to this forensic examination.

But even as he flustered, a sudden light came on: Ed was not going to mention the strikes, and Dave was off the hook.

All week Ed has been polishing up his "squeezed middle" credentials saying the strikes should not go ahead. He re-enforced the message with his own Clause Four moment, or at least Clause Four hint, by talking up cutting back union power in the Party

But biting off the hand that feeds you is one thing, but being seen to enjoy it is another entirely -- and so with real deal less than 24 hours away he decided to gamble on having said enough for now. He hopes voters will remember he was against the strike, but the strikers remember he wasn't as against it as Dave.

So to the obvious pleasure of the Government benches, and the equally obvious confusion of his own side, he decided to keep schtum.

"What the whole country will have noticed is, that at a time when people are worrying about strikes, he can't ask about strikes because he is in the pocket of the trade unions," said the PM, with all the pleasure of someone who has just found a gift horse opposite him with its mouth wide open.

There is a by-election tomorrow in the Inverclyde constituency in Scotland where Labour is defending at 14,000 majority -- repeat, 14,000 majority.

Friday should be interesting.

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

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

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Our treatment of today's refugees harks back to Europe's darkest hour

We mustn't forget the lessons of the Second World War in the face of today's refugee crisis, says Molly Scott Cato.

In the 1930s, thousands of persecuted people fled Europe. Our own press ignominiously reported these as "Stateless Jews pouring into this country" and various records exist from that time of public officials reassuring readers that no such thing would be allowed under their watch.

With the benefit of historical hindsight we now know what fate awaited many of those Jews who were turned away from sanctuary. Quite rightly, we now express horror about the Holocaust, an iconic example of the most shocking event of human history, and pledge ourselves to stop anything like it happening again. 

Yet as Europe faces its worst refugee crisis since the Second World War we are witnessing a deafening cacophony of xenophobic voices in response to people fleeing their own present-day horror. We must therefore reflect on whether there is an uncomfortable parallel in the language being used to describe those seeking asylum today and the language used to describe Jews seeking refuge in the 1930s.

Our response to the current refugee crisis suggests we feel fearful and threatened by the mass movement of desperate people; fearful not just of sharing what we have but also of the sense of disorganisation and chaos. Does the fact that these refugees are from Syria, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, and so not part of our continent, provide an excuse to allow them to be bombed at home or drowned during their desperate journey to safety?

We are not helped by the poorly informed public debate which—perhaps intentionally—conflates three quite different movements of people: free movement within the EU, irregular or unauthorised migration and the plight of the Middle Eastern refugees. While our misguided foreign policy and unwillingness to tackle change may give us a moral responsibility for those fleeing famine and conflict, our responsibility towards refugees from war zones is clear under international law.

Due to our commitments to the UN Refugee Convention, the vast majority of Syrian refugees who reach our territory are given asylum but the UK has taken fewer Syrian refugees than many other European countries. While Germany admitted around 41,000 asylum-seekers in 2014 alone, the UK has taken in fewer than 7000.

The problem is that any sense of compassion we feel conflicts with our perception of the economic constraints we face. In spite of being the fifth largest economy in the world we feel poor and austerity makes us feel insecure. However, when actually confronted with people in crisis our humanity can come to the fore. A friend who spent her holiday in Greece told me that she saw local people who are themselves facing real poverty sharing what they had with the thousands of refugees arriving from Turkey.

A straightforward response to the growing sense of global crisis would be to restore the authority of the UN in managing global conflict, a role fatally undermined by Tony Blair's decision to go to war in Iraq. Our role should be to support UN efforts in bringing about strong governments in the region, not taking the misguided ‘coalition of the willing’ route and running foreign policy based on self-interest and driven by the demands of the oil and arms industries.

We also need EU policy-makers to show leadership in terms of solidarity: to co-operate over the acceptance of refugees and finding them safe routes into asylum, something the European Greens have consistently argued for. The EU Commission and Parliament are in clear agreement about the need for fixed quotas for member states, a plan that is being jeopardised by national government’s responding to right-wing rather than compassionate forces in their own countries.

Refugees from war-torn countries of the Middle East need asylum on a temporary basis, until the countries they call home can re-establish security and guarantee freedom from oppression.

The responsibility of protecting refugees is not being shared fairly and I would appeal to the British people to recall our proud history of offering asylum. Without the benefit of mass media, the excuse of ignorance that can help to explain our failure to act in the 1930s is not available today. We must not repeat the mistakes of that time in the context of today’s crisis, mistakes which led to the deaths of so many Jews in the Nazi death camps. 

Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the South West of England.

Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the southwest of England, elected in May 2014. She has published widely, particularly on issues related to green economics. Molly was formerly Professor of Strategy and Sustainability at the University of Roehampton.