PMQs sketch: This was the crimson tide personified

Ed M's questions turned the perma-tanned PM into a red-faced bad temper on legs.

The Prime Minister's plea for people to bring their children to work on strike day did not fall on deaf ears in the House of Commons, which packed both Government and Opposition benches with them for a juvenile version of PMQs.

As the nation's pubic sector workers froze their bits off in demonstrations all over the country, this group on the public payroll gathered in the warmth of the Chamber to offer either support, or a Baroness-Trumpington-salute to the strikers.

You could tell the world had moved on -- in the 24 hours since they, and we, were told we were on our way to hell in a handcart -- by the absence from the event of yesterday's chief-gloomster, Chancellor George. One wondered if he had taken advantage of the lack of passport control staff to flee the country and certainly, the presence in his place on a school day of chief secretary Danny Alexander only added to the air of unreality.

But the real import of the absence of George was to be seen on the effect to his friend the Prime Minister, suddenly on his own in front of the brutish hordes of Labour with only Danny and Nick Clegg to hold him up -- the job usually done by George with a strategically placed hand.

With his best pal apparently on the run, Dave lost it big time and so spectacularly that at one stage it looked as if the Prime Minister's head would be delivered literally to the strikers.

Lift Off came within minutes of the whistle blowing. All eyes were on Ed Miliband who had found himself in difficulties of his own in recent weeks, trying to condemn whilst supporting the strikers.

Ed did it cleverly again today by managing to be on both sides at once, taking the moral high-ground. Dave is not a big fan of cleverness, and proceeded to greet it by transforming himself in front of our eyes from a normal perma-tanned PM into a red-faced finger-stabbing bad temper on legs. He was aided in this endeavour by the massed voices of the Tory choir up on the terraces, who love it when their man shows his true boot-boy colours.

Ed was "irresponsible, left-wing and weak," said Dave, as he reminded the Labour leader he had been less than consistent on the strike. Obviously stung by the charge of being left-wing, Ed drew his own finger from its scabbard and tried to poke Dave's eye out over the Despatch Box.

The Labour side accompanied their leader's cut and thrust with further cries of "crimson tide"; the description flung at the PM as new and deeper hues emerge from his shirt collar as his over-excitement increased.

This was enough to bring Speaker Bercow to his feet for the first of many occasions during the session, as he accused the Tory side of "orchestrated barracking" -- a charge that made Labour increase its volume clearly seeking the same compliment.

Both leaders continued to swap insults with the Prime Minister, happy to point out more than once that the pension proposals leading to today's strikes had been drawn up by former Labour Minister Lord Hutton.

Any hope that the PM might get a grip on himself totally disappeared when his personal red rag Ed Balls joined in by calling on him to calm down. Had he not had guy ropes secretly attached, Dave might clearly have left the floor at that moment. With Ed B's head nodding so furiously that you feared it too could take off, Ed M said Plan A had failed; the poorest were picking up the bills, and never again could he say we were all in this together.

There were rare moments of light relief. A historical time-warp called Jacob Rees-Mogg got up to languidly opine that Dave should follow Ronnie Reagan's modern approach to trade unions and sack the strikers. Even Dave ignored him.

The PM revealed his own staff were helping break the strike leaving some wondering if George really had been smuggled out of the country. By now the Speaker had been on his feet more times than the Leader of the Opposition, and so PMQs destined to end at 12.30pm to give MPs a chance to get as decent seat for lunch.

Amber Rudd got in just before the menus to ask Cameron to condemn Labour MPs who he said had asked permission of the GMB union to cross a picket line outside the Commons to attend PMQs.

Outside, the strikers got out their sandwiches and wondered what all the noise had been about.

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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Justin Trudeau points the way forward for European politics

Is the charismatic Canadian Prime Minister modelling the party of the future?

Six months after Canadian election day, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party continues to bask in the glow of victory. With 44 per cent of support in the polls, the Liberals are the most popular party amongst every single demographic – men and women, young and old, and people of all educational backgrounds. 

While most European mainstream parties only dream of such approval, this is actually a small dip for the Liberals. They were enjoying almost 50 per cent support in the polls up until budget day on 21 March. Even after announcing $29.4 billion in deficit spending, Canadians overall viewed the budget favourably – only 34 per cent said they would vote to defeat it.

Progressives around the world are suddenly intrigued by Canadian politics. Why is Justin Trudeau so successful?

Of course it helps that the new Prime Minister is young, handsome and loves pandas (who doesn’t?) But it’s also true that he was leader of the Liberals for a year and half before the election. He brought with him an initial surge in support for the party. But he also oversaw its steady decline in the lead up to last year’s election – leadership is important, but clearly it isn’t the only factor behind the Liberals’ success today.

Context matters

As disappointing as it is for Europeans seeking to unpack Canadian secrets, the truth is that a large part of the Liberals’ success was also down to the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s extreme unpopularity by election time.

Throughout almost ten years in power, Harper shifted Canada markedly to the right. His Conservative government did not just alter policies; it started changing the rules of the democratic game. While centre-right governments in Europe may be implementing policies that progressives dislike, they are nonetheless operating within the constraints of democratic systems (for the most part; Hungary and Poland are exceptions).

Which is why the first weeks of the election campaign were dominated by an ‘Anybody But Harper’ sentiment, benefitting both the Liberals and the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP was even leading the polls for a while, inviting pundits to consider the possibility of a hung parliament.

But eight days before election day, the Liberals began to pull ahead.

The most important reason – and why they continue to be so popular today – is that they were able to own the mantle of ‘change’. They were the only party to promise running a (small) deficit and invest heavily in infrastructure. Notably absent was abstract discourse about tackling inequality. Trudeau’s plan was about fairness for the middle class, promoting social justice and economic growth.

Democratic reform was also a core feature of the Liberal campaign, which the party has maintained in government – Trudeau appointed a new Minister of Democratic Institutions and promised a change in the voting system before the next election.

The change has also been in style, however. Justin Trudeau is rebranding Canada as an open, progressive, plural society. Even though this was Canada’s reputation pre-Harper, it is not as simple as turning back the clock.

In a world increasingly taken by populist rhetoric on immigration – not just by politicians like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and other right-wingers, but also increasingly by mainstream politicians of right and left – Justin Trudeau has been unashamedly proclaiming the benefits of living in a diverse, plural society. He repeatedly calls himself a feminist, in the hope that one day “it is met with a shrug” rather than a social media explosion. Live-streamed Global Town Halls are one part of a renewed openness with the media. Progressive politicians in Europe would do well to take note.

Questioning the role of political parties today

Another interesting development is that the Liberal party is implicitly questioning the point of parties today. It recently abolished fee-paying, card-carrying party members. While this has been met with some criticism regarding the party’s structure and integrity, with commentators worried that “it’s the equivalent of turning your party into one giant Facebook page: Click ‘Like’ and you’re in the club,” it seems this is the point.

Colin Horgan, one of Trudeau’s former speechwriters, explains that Facebook is “literally a treasure trove for political parties”. All kinds of information becomes available – for free; supporters become easier to contact.

It was something the Liberals were already hinting at two years ago when they introduced a ‘supporters’ category to make the party appear more open. Liberal president Anna Gainey also used the word “movement” to describe what the Liberals hope to be.

And yes, they are trying to win over millennials. Which proved to be a good strategy, as a new study shows that Canadians aged 18-25 were a key reason why the Liberals won a majority. Young voter turnout was up by 12 per cent from the last election in 2011; among this age group, 45 per cent voted for the Liberals.

Some interesting questions for European progressives to consider. Of course, some of the newer political parties in Europe have already been experimenting with looser membership structures and less hierarchical ways of engaging, like Podemos’ ‘circles’ in Spain and the Five Star Movement’s ‘liquid democracy’ in Italy.

The British centre-left may be hesitant after its recent fiasco. Labour opened up its leadership primary to ‘supporters’ and ended up with a polarising leader who is extremely popular amongst members, but unpopular amongst the British public. But it would be wrong to assume that the process was to blame.

The better comparison is perhaps to Emmanuel Macron, France’s young economy minister who recently launched his own movement ‘En Marche !’ Moving beyond the traditional party structure, he is attempting to unite ‘right’ and ‘left’ by inspiring French people with an optimistic vision of the future. Time will tell whether this works to engage people in the longer term, or at least until next year’s presidential election.

In any case, European parties could start by asking themselves: What kind of political parties are they? What is the point of them?

Most importantly: What do they want people to think is the point of them?

Ultimately, the Canadian Liberals’ model of success rests on three main pillars:

  1. They unambiguously promote and defend a progressive, open, plural vision of society.
  2. They have a coherent economic plan focused on social justice and economic growth which, most importantly, they are trusted to deliver.
  3. They understand that society has changed – people are more interconnected than ever, relationships are less hierarchical and networks exist online – and they are adapting a once rigid party structure into a looser, open movement to reflect that.

*And as a bonus, a young, charismatic leader doesn’t hurt either.

Claudia Chwalisz is a Senior Policy Researcher at Policy Network, a Crook Public Service Fellow at the University of Sheffield and author of The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Need to Change