1. Dennis Skinner denounces the “heartless monster” Atos
The beast of Bolsover delivered one of the most powerful parliamentary performances in recent memory at PMQs in October. As he recounted the story of a constituent who was stripped of his benefits by Atos and waited 11 months for an appeal before his cancer “took his sight, his hearing, and then – last Friday – took his life”, the House fell to a rare silence. He closed:
Two things the Prime Minister should do. One, with immediate effect, make an ex gratia payment to his widow to cover the pain and loss of income, and second, abolish this cruel, heartless monster called Atos. Get rid of it!
Whatever their views on welfare cuts, all were agreed that it was a masterful piece of oratory from the 81-year-old.
2. Mehdi Hasan lets rip at the Daily Mail
Whoops of delight were heard across liberal England as the NS columnist tore into the Mail for its attack on Ralph Miliband as “the man who hated Britain”, denouncing it as “immigrant-bashing, woman-hating, Muslim-smearing, NHS-undermining” and “gay-baiting”.
3. Anna Soubry stands up to Farage’s scaremongering
Appearing on Question Time last month, Conservative minister Anna Soubry unexpectedly – and brilliantly – departed from the Lynton Crosby script and attacked Nigel Farage for his scaremongering over immigration. Rather than pandering to the UKIP leader, as so many Tories do, she declared: “You do not talk facts, you talk prejudice. That’s what you talk, and you scaremonger and you put fear in people’s hearts.
“Look, times are tough. We know that. But when times are tough, there’s a danger and history tells us when things are not good, you turn to the stranger and you blame them. And you shouldn’t. That is wrong. And I’m proud of our country’s history and I’m proud that people come here.”
4. Godfrey Bloom thwacks Michael Crick
After beginning the day by referring to UKIP’s female activists as “sluts”, Bloom continued his apparent mission to destroy the party’s conference by hitting Channel 4 News’s Michael Crick over the head after he challenged him on the absence of non-white faces on a party brochure. Bloom was subsequently suspended from the party and now sits as an independent MEP.
5. Glenda Jackson on Thatcher: “A woman? Not on my terms”
Most of Margaret Thatcher’s fiercest Labour foes chose to stay away from the parliamentary tribute to her, but Glenda Jackson couldn’t allow the occasion to pass without criticism, declaring that the former PM wreaked “the most heinous, social, economic and spiritual damage upon this country”, and concluding: “a woman? Not on my terms.”
The Labour MP for Hampstead was jeered and booed by Tories, with Tony Baldry declaring that her speech was against the “conventions of the House” as “this is not and has never been a general debate on the memory of the person who has been deceased, but an opportunity for tribute”. But John Bercow rejected the criticisim, stating that “nothing unparliamentary has occured”.
“We are debating a motion that says ‘this House has considered the matter of tributes to the Baroness Thatcher’ – that is what we are doing and nothing has got in the way of that.”
6. Alastair Campbell blasts Paul Dacre: “you’re dealing with a bully and a coward”
When the Daily Mail put up its deputy Jon Steafel to defend the paper’s attacks on Ralph Miliband, Alastair Campbell seized the opportunity to tear into the absent Dacre: “You [Emily Maitlis] said the Mail is a formidable opponent. The Mail is not a formidable opponent because it’s run by a bully and a coward and, like most cowards, he’s a hypocrite as well. Paul Dacre hasn’t got the guts to come on this programme and defend something that I know Jon Steafel believes is not defensible.”
He added: “These people do not believe in genuine debate. If you do not conform to Paul Dacre’s narrow, twisted view of the world as all of his employees, like Steafel, have to do, you get done in. All I say to all of the politicians in Britain is that once you accept you’re dealing with a bully and a coward, you have absolutely nothing to fear from them.”
Those on the left who have never forgiven Campbell for his conduct during the Iraq war were moved to rare praise.
7. David Cameron ‘gets’ it on Syria
The most dramatic moment of parliamentary theatre this year came when Cameron ruled out military action against Syria after becoming the first prime minister since 1782 to lose a vote on a matter of peace and war. When Miliband asked him to assure the Commons that he would not use the royal prerogative to approve intervention, he replied:
Let me say the House has not voted for either motion tonight. I strongly believe in the need for a tough response to the use of chemical weapons, but I also believe in respecting the will of this House of Commons. It is very clear tonight that while the House has not passed a motion, it is clear to me that the British parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that and the government will act accordingly.
With Obama responding by halting the US’s rush to war and Syria agreeing to dismantle its chemical weapons (to be followed by a nuclear agreement with Iran), rarely has one voted proved more consequential.
8. Eddie Mair takes on Boris Johnson: “you’re a nasty piece of work, aren’t you?”
The usually unflappable Boris Johnson met his match when he was confronted by Eddie Mair on The Andrew Marr Show. As he was reminded that he was sacked from the Times for making up quotes, sacked from the Conservative frontbench for lying to Michael Howard about his affair with Petronella Wyatt and that he listened uncritically as Darius Guppy plotted to beat up a journalist, the mayor helplessly pleaded: “why don’t we talk about something else?”
9. Cameron confronted by protester over NHS privatisation
The day after it was announced that the NHS-owned blood plasma supplier PRUK had been sold to US private equity firm Bain Capital (the company co-founded by Mitt Romney), David Cameron found himself heckled by a protester at the Olympic park over the privatisation of the health service. Unable to deny the charge that he was “privatising the NHS”, the PM could only offer the non-sequitur that the government was “putting more money in”.
10. Miliband at PMQs: “is there anything he could organise in a brewery?”
The Labour leader delivered his finest PMQs zinger to date when he responded to the government’s U-turn on minimum alcohol pricing by asking Cameron: “is there anything he could organise in a brewery?” The best the PM could manage in response was another hackneyed jibe at Ed Balls.