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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Daniel Hannan harks back to the days of empire - the Angevin Empire

Did the benign rule of some 12th century English kings make western France vote Macron over Le Pen?

I know a fair amount about British politics; I know a passable amount about American politics, too. But, as with so many of my fellow Britons, in the world beyond that, I’m lost.

So how are we, the monolingual Anglophone opinionators of the world, meant to interpret a presidential election in a country where everyone is rude enough to conduct all their politics in French?

Luckily, here’s Daniel Hannan to help us:

I suppose we always knew Dan still got a bit misty eyed at the notion of the empire. I just always thought it was the British Empire, not the Angevin one, that tugged his heartstrings so.

So what exactly are we to make of this po-faced, historically illiterate, geographically illiterate, quite fantastically stupid, most Hannan-y Hannan tweet of all time?

One possibility is that this was meant as a serious observation. Dan is genuinely saying that the parts of western France ruled by Henry II and sons in the 12th century – Brittany, Normandy, Anjou, Poitou, Aquitaine – remain more moderate than those to the east, which were never graced with the touch of English greatness. This, he is suggesting, is why they generally voted for Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen.

There are a number of problems with this theory. The first is that it’s bollocks. Western France was never part of England – it remained, indeed, a part of a weakened kingdom of France. In some ways it would be more accurate to say that what really happened in 1154 was that some mid-ranking French nobles happened to inherit the English Crown.

Even if you buy the idea that England is the source of all ancient liberties (no), western France is unlikely to share its political culture, because it was never a part of the same polity: the two lands just happened to share a landlord for a while.

As it happens, they didn’t even share it for very long. By 1215, Henry’s youngest son John had done a pretty good job of losing all his territories in France, so that was the end of the Angevins. The English crown reconquered  various bits of France over the next couple of centuries, but, as you may have noticed, it hasn’t been much of a force there for some time now.

At any rate: while I know very little of French politics, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess the similarities between yesterday's electoral map and the Angevin Empire were a coincidence. I'm fairly confident that there have been other factors which have probably done more to shape the French political map than a personal empire that survived for the length of one not particularly long human life time 800 years ago. Some wars. Industrialisation. The odd revolution. You know the sort of thing.

If Daniel Hannan sucks at history, though, he also sucks at geography, since chunks of territory which owed fealty to the English crown actually voted Le Pen. These include western Normandy; they also include Calais, which remained English territory for much longer than any other part of France. This seems rather to knacker Hannan’s thesis.

So: that’s one possibility, that all this was an attempt to make serious point; but, Hannan being Hannan, it just happened to be a quite fantastically stupid one.

The other possibility is that he’s taking the piss. It’s genuinely difficult to know.

Either way, he instantly deleted the tweet. Because he realised we didn’t get the joke? Because he got two words the wrong way round? Because he realised he didn’t know where Calais was?

We’ll never know for sure. I’d ask him but, y’know, blocked.

UPDATE: Breaking news from the frontline of the internet: 

It. Was. A. Joke.

My god. He jokes. He makes light. He has a sense of fun.

This changes everything. I need to rethink my entire world view. What if... what if I've been wrong, all this time? What if Daniel Hannan is in fact one of the great, unappreciated comic voices of our time? What if I'm simply not in on the joke?

What if... what if Brexit is actually... good?

Daniel, if you're reading this – and let's be honest, you are definitely reading this – I am so sorry. I've been misunderstanding you all this time.

I owe you a pint (568.26 millilitres).

Serious offer, by the way.

 

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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