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11 August 2011

Political sketch: sun-burnt consensus in the Commons

As Parliament reconvened for the day, politicians from both sides of the House vied to share each ot

By Peter McHugh

The sound of stable doors being shut and the clip clop of bolting horses could be heard in constituencies all over the country as MPs made an unheard of return to work in August, albeit for one day only, to discuss why they had been forced to break into their holidays.

As Parliament met in emergency session it was clear from the outset that it would be a debate between the haves and the have-nots .The haves, those who already have the golden tan from being pool-side abroad, and the have-nots, those yet to get it.

Serious if sun-burnt faces were almost everywhere as they united in condemnation of the past five days of mayhem in parts of the country many had never seen. Even Andrew Neil, craggy features suitably sun-burnt from his French second home, had returned to resurrect the BBC Politics Show from its summer slumbers, proof positive of a real crisis.

In gang terms this was a meeting of the SW1 Massive and its leader Dave, still on the back-foot having been awol in Tuscany, was determined to press all the right buttons to be seen to be finally in charge.

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Arrests, imprisonments, no phony human rights, water cannon, plastic bullets and thousand and thousands of police on the streets were all listed as pledges for the future. “The fight back has begun,” said Dave with all the certainty of a man who knew people wanted to know why it hadn’t started last Saturday.

MPs were up and down like jack-in-the-boxes, determined to catch the eye of Speaker Bercow so that their giving up of a day’s holiday could ag least be marked with a paragraph or two in the local paper.

First up was Sir Peter Tapsell, who is only 81 but strives manfully to appear much older. Sir Peter is Father of the House and a fully paid up member of the Old Duffers Club.

He asked Dave if he remembered 1971 which left the Prime Minister, aged 5 at the time, looking slightly confused. Having established that Dave had no idea what he was talking about Sir Peter then proposed we take a lesson out of the Vietnam War demonstrations in the United States and sequester Wembley Stadium as a suitable holding area for all of London’s rioters.

This stunning idea left even the regular members of the Tory Party’s recidivist wing speechless and Sir Peter collapsed back in his seat without even a bray from the usual suspects.

With both front benches feeling equally guilty at being out of touch both literally and geographically it was clear that unanimity would be the general way out. Ed Miliband, face untouched by the sun’s rays having gone to the West Country for his first break, was Dave’s new BF.

Giving us the first real hearing of his post-nasal voice (jury still out) he echoed everything the Prime Minister said and even sounded reasonable as he asked Dave to look again at the proposed cuts in the police budget.

The PM and his Party, not to mention the Lib-Dems, are hoist on this one and so far are determined to stand firm but as Harold MacMillan said”Events dear boy, events,” never more true than in the last six days.

What all sides had worked out was that there are no votes to be gained just now by asking why the rioters had gone on the rampage and why theyseemed to enjoy it.

Tottenham MP David Lammy ,who was laudably at his post during the troubles, brought them back to reality by saying his constituents burnt and robbed out of their homes and premises on Saturday night just wanted to know where the police had been.

But the biggest noise came when Ealing was mentioned. It was as if MPs realised that pictures of wine bars under attack in its leafy squares had made them acknowledge that it was not just places where they don’t go that were affected but places where they do go.

Irony followed irony as MPs whose own smash and grab raids on the public purse during the expenses scandal re-discovered the moral high ground to condemn those who did the same.

The traditional lines of difference between the parties not only disappeared but crossed over as Labour’s Jack Straw demanded Tory Ken Clarke build more prisons, lock more people up and give them tougher sentences.

With public enquiries all the rage another was demanded here but Dave, having promised two on one day just last month, was having none of it. Instead he said the Home Affairs Committee, under the control of Keith Vaz, would be given the job to the despair of everyone who watched them fail to get hold of Rupert Murdoch and his minions just a few weeks ago.

There was even an intervention from David Miliband who, having stayed silent for most of the year, revealed there had been no rioting in his South Shields constituency no doubt due to the near Arctic winds off the North Sea which aficionados of its sandy beaches can bear ready witness to. David M, it must be said, had the tan of a man who hadn’t spent a fortnight behind a wind break overlooking the North Sea.

It was therefore with some relief that normal service was resumed when the Chancellor George Osborne replaced Dave at the penitents stool. Dave disappearing to Tuscany during the riots was one thing but George was also accused of doing a runner to Los Angeles as the economy staggered from crisis to crisis.

George reminded MPs that whatever grandiose plans they had to put money where they thought the problems of the last six days lay, there wasn’t any.

Then they went back on holiday.


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