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13 June 2012

PMQs sketch: Hunt a (non)sticking point in coalition cohesion

Tantrums flare over how to deal with the Culture secretary.

By Peter McHugh

You could tell it was importantly unimportant when Michael Fallon was put up to say just how unimportant it was.

Claude Cockburn once said: “Believe nothing until it has been officially denied,” and Mr Fallon appeared officially on behalf of the Tory party to deny there was anything important in the clash with their Lib-Dem coalition partners over Jeremy Hunt.

To recap for those who still care: the row is over Prime Minister Dave refusing to refer his Culture secretary to the independent advisor on ministerial behaviour over his role in Murdochgate.

To add to the piquancy Mr Fallon is deputy chairman of the Conservative Party and is trotted out when the chairman (as only the Tories could insist on putting it) Baroness Warsi is unavailable .

And Lady Warsi is unavailable at the moment because the afore-mentioned Dave has referred allegations of bad behaviour on her part  to the afore-mentioned advisor to whom he has not referred Mr Hunt (please try to keep up since questions may be asked at the end.)

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As the world went about its normal business this morning the arcane-above surfaced in the one place where other world irrelevancies are often aired – the House of Commons and Prime Ministers Questions.

To be fair to Labour leader Ed Miliband he could not turn even his recently reconfigured nose up at the opportunity to point out this lack of  coalition cohesiveness.

With Nick Clegg telling his lot to abstain over a Labour motion calling on action against Hunt the scene was set for the sort of shouting, name-calling and temper tantrums which marks this weekly get-together of our elected representatives when they are not on holiday.

Indeed, so good was the scene that Nick had absented himself from his normal PMQs position next to Dave and fled to the Royal Courts of Justice to make a timely personal appearance at the other big show in town, the Leveson inquiry.

So it was that Ed M could not wait to be let loose on his opponents and bounced Zebedee-like to his feet as soon as Speaker Bercow called his name.

But even before he spoke it was clear there was a rat off somewhere. Nick may have been missing but firmly wedged in his place was another Lib Dem, the Energy Secretary Ed Davey. Just down the front bench Chancellor George Osborne was almost holding hands with his coalition cousin Danny Alexander and the man of the moment, Jeremy Hunt, sat wearing his usual half-strangulated smile right next to Vince Cable.

Ed ploughed on, asking why Dave had served up Baroness Warsi to the independent advisor Sir Alex Allan but not Jeremy Hunt.

It was now that Dave, on the back foot for months, proceeded to shoot Ed’s fox with a letter from Sir Alex saying – for now at least – he should not get involved.

The sight of their leader scoring a PMQs point was almost too much for Tory backbenchers whose roar of approval must have been loud enough to put the frighteners on Nick Clegg down the road at Leveson.

Ed rebounded revealing a Tory memo to “comrades” in the Commons calling on them to provide “a protective wall of sound” for Dave during PMQs – and they needed no further encouragement.

Ed went on to make as good a fist as possible of the time that remained but you could see his heart was not really in it.

Equally uninspired was “the most annoying man in modern British politics,” as Dave so endearingly described Ed Balls recently.

Indeed Ed B sat quietly until Dave, ever happy to stick it back to him, reminded his eager audience of the appearance of his former boss Gordon Brown at Leveson this week when he denied any of his aides had ever rubbished Tony Blair.

This was enough for Cabinet Minister Francis Maude, finally let off the naughty step for telling the nation to store petrol at home during the fuel crisis that never was, to almost lose both arms in the pleasure of indentifying Ed B to any MP lucky enough to have slept through the proceedings so far.

Meanwhie up the road Rebekah Brooks was sent for trial and it was the turn of SNP leader Alex Salmond to tell Leveson how little he knew Rupert.

Dave is up tomorrow. Is that a cock crowing?

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