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.