PMQs sketch: Tory tribalism saves the day for Dave

Cameron bashing is a sport restricted to Tory backbenchers, it's not open to the great-unwashed oppo

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the introduction of Prime Minister's Questions to the democratic process in the United Kingdom and so it seems only right to remark on the grey streaks spotted in the hair of the present incumbent.

This is not to trivialise PMQs since its participants need no help from outsiders iIn this regard but to choose on this birthday from the very short list of subjects of interest which actually occurred.

As ever it was meant to be different .The disemboweling of Dave had been on the menu following his hanging and drawing over Europe on Monday by the many Tory backbenchers who suspect that despite attending Eton he has friends of a non-British variety.

Half of his party had even come back early from dinner for the chance to give him a good kicking over his failure to sort out Johnny Foreigner, not to mention the hump most of them had at not getting on to the Government payroll because of Dave's dalliance with the Lib-Dems.

Now he was due in front of them again before setting off to Brussels for the latest last-ditch meeting of European leaders working out which country is next to go bust.

It was therefore perhaps no surprise that Dave's manly mane should find itself showing signs of political pressure as he turned up in the place of his most recent humiliation for a second unwelcome helping of verbal violence.

He looked unsuprisingly strained as he took his seat for the gala performance. In front of him his enemies in the Labour Party, behind him his enemies in the Tory Party and beside him Nick Clegg. And then he stood up -- and his side cheered and cheered and cheered.

Had they sobered up since Monday night? Had they been told off at home? Had Dave and his enforcers now got all their names and addresses?

Whatever the reason he stood somewhat stunned as the Tory benches exploded with the sort of enthusiasm normally only seen when the Government adopts the latest campaign from the pages of the Daily Mail.

Equally stunned was the Leader of the Opposition who had clearly entered the chamber on a high having spent 48 hours watching the Tory Party doing what Labour excels in -- cutting its own throat.

Fervent Ed-watchers will be forgiven if they find the references to the hair colour of the PM irrelevant to today's proceedings but that is surely only because little mention is made of the grey spot painted onto the front of his hair to give him more gravitas.

He had sat desperate to be let at his foe, excitedly clutching his papers packed with the quotes that showed the Prime Minister was not just out of touch with his party but with his coalition, not to mention the country.

Had not half his party demanded a new deal on Europe and had not the Deputy Prime Minister ruled this out ."Who speaks for the Government?" Ed demanded to know.

"Well, not you", was the clear answer from the Tory back benches as they made it clear that Dave-devouring is a sport restricted to fully paid up members of their party and not open to the great-unwashed opposite.

Ed and his advisers had clearly not factored Tory tribalism into their running order and once again the Tory leader sprang free from the trap.

Indeed newly emboldened Dave said he and his Deputy did share many of the same views leaving Nick with that hapless grin that marks so many of his non-speaking performances at the weekly event.

Ed was "a complete mug" on Europe charged the PM as his own side looked likely to have collective heart attacks of over-excitement. It was as if Monday had never happened. Dave sat down in relief .Ed sat down in confusion.

It may be worth pointing out that this year not only marks the 50th anniversary of the launching of PMQS but also of Grecian 2000. This is not, as you might think, a reference to the Greek sovereign debt but to a hair product. Dave and Ed may want to enquire further.

 

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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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.