Coffee House

Rowdy and raucous — but that’s how we like it

30 November 2011

It was vicious. It was frenetic. It was full of rage and class-hatred. It was great
political sport. If you like a serious punch-up, the Commons at mid-day was the place to be. The viewing figures at home were boosted by the many millions of strikers who couldn’t quite make
their local anti-cuts demo and were sitting out the revolution with a nice cup of tea and PMQs on the Parliament channel. 

Ed Miliband started by claiming that the PM had been seen in private rubbing his hands, like Moriarty, and boasting that ‘the unions have walked into my trap’. Cameron, although not
denying this, slammed the Labour leader for supporting a strike which had been called in the middle of the negotiations. Turning it into a character issue he called Miliband, ‘irresponsible,
left-wing and weak.’ He said it twice, in fact, reversing the order the second time, as if searching for its optimum alliterative impact. 

Miliband was in ecstasies of class-loathing too. His brows darkened with fury as he accused the PM of demonising underpaid workers and of not understanding the impact of his policies on the poor.
At times the Labour leader looked so angry that his face appeared to be ripening before our eyes like a cluster of empurpled grapes. 

He moved to detail. Specifically, to the wage freeze. ‘Will he admit that 800,000 people on £15k a year are facing a pay cut?’ Cameron answered a question which was, in one or two
respects, similar to this one. ‘Let’s hear some facts about public sector pensions,’ said the prime minister. ‘Anyone earning less than £15k full time will not see any
increase in their pension contributions.’


The house was growing so rowdy that the Speaker, Mr Bercow (whose new coat of arms bears the startling prediction that, ‘All Are Equal’), stood up and attempted to apply his new
levelling principle to the decibel-count in the chamber. He asked everyone to be equally silent. So everyone was equally noisy. And equally oblivious to Mr Bercow. 

When Ed Miliband bellowed out a question about cuts to tax-credits — ‘Families on the minimum wage, taking home £200 a week, will lose a week and a half’s pay!’
— the chamber was so noisy that the prime minister felt free to take a scenic route towards his answer. He blamed Labour for removing the 10p tax rate. Then he praised himself for lifting a
million citizens out of tax altogether. And he finished off with ya-boo at Miliband for fiddling the figures while in the Treasury and ‘attacking the working poor.’

As things got rowdier, the issues got cloudier. Julie Hilling (Lab, Bolton), spoke on behalf of ‘Jackie’ a constituent who no longer knew whether she could feed her family. The prime
minister told her that Jackie could cheer up because he’d frozen council tax, cut petrol duty, increased child tax-credit and made sure that the UK’s economy was protected from the
scourge of soaring interest rates. 

Cathy Jamieson (Lab, Co-op Kilmarnock and Loudoun) accused Cameron of freezing working tax-credits and of damning ever more children to child poverty. Cameron replied that he had boosted child
tax-credit and added, puzzlingly, that if ‘you increase pensions you see child poverty go up.’ He also claimed that pensions would benefit from ‘a record cash increase next

Something has got out control here. Not the House of Commons but the system of penury-containment. It seems to have proliferated like the Barrier Reef into a thousand categories and sub-sectors.
And each group of needy citizens qualifies for a mass of levies and exemptions, of tax-cuts and top-ups, of hand-outs and grab-backs, of allowances and confiscations. It would take a particle
physicist to explain it all. The result is that even well-informed observers have no way of knowing whether millions are in mortal peril (the Miliband nightmare) or whether we face an era of tough
but manageable hardship, (the Cameron future-fitness programme).

But at least our MPs threw themselves at it full tilt. Many today complained about the cement-mixer levels of shouting and jeering. And the Speaker intervened five times to hush what he called
‘orchestrated heckling.’ He made scant impact. And a good thing too. A debate in Parliament is supposed to be a bloodless duel. If it turns into a bloodless nothing, it loses its soul
and its purpose. A House in uproar is a House that cares. Governance shouldn’t be pretty. Rhetorical passion — and the mob-barracking that wants to shout it down — is a mark of
vibrancy and integrity in our system. 

Lots of democracies around the world present a decorous public face. Most of them are tyrannies.

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  • Kingstonian

    Lloyd – agree with your last two paragraphs, but the rest was all a bit OTT. Too much “in the style of” Quentin Letts – but QL is a master sketch writer and understands, inter alia, the art of brevity.

  • Maggie

    Ed Miliband and the Unions would have us believe that the only people who work in the public sector are fluffy caring saintly folk that we couldn’t do without – dinner ladies, cleaners, nurses, classroom assistants and firemen. But a cursory look at The Guardian jobs vacant section today will produce Head of Scrutiny & Assurance £87,000, Head of Quality and Transformation £77,000, Network Compliance Manager £63,000, Head of Evidence & Improvement £87,000. It seems to me that if a job’s got a stupid name and a high salary the post should automatically be axed.

  • Pettros

    Loony leftism from Milliband & co. Sneering arrogance and laughter from the Cons. Business as usual.

  • Eddie

    Why are people protesting and striking? Selfishness and greed: they want their future to be secure and well-off, and damn the rest! Me me me: that’s the union’s battle cry – they certainly do not have the moral high ground. And the economic crisis was not caused by bankers anyway (much as I loathe them) – no, it was caused the successive governments pandering to public demand for cheap credit and ever-spiralling property prices – which in turn filled governemnt coffers and made people feel rich and so vote for whichever political party who bribed them the most! Anyone who owns property and has made profits from it caused the financial crisis – I fully support a large tax on all profits there, and a hige new tax on buy-to-let investments too. We need property prices to halve now.

    The main question is this: why should someone in the private sector or who’s running a small business – the lifeblood of our economy – suffer in poverty in old age, whereas some stuffed shirt twerp from the council gets a massive pension? The world has changed – China has got rich by making consumeriust crap and selling it to greedy Westerners; thus they have all our money now! The babyboomer binge is over.

    I fully support pay cuts for all state employees – our binmen earn about £45K pa as it is, which is absurd when small businesses have to get by on half of that and no pension at the end of it!

  • arnoldo87

    PMQ’s is a truly depressing spectacle these days.

    On the one hand we have the hapless Ed, who struggles to score even the most open of goals.

    And on the other, an otherwise competent Prime Minister who displays absolutely the worst aspect of his personality.

  • Holly ……

    Both Ed’s, the unions and the rest of the lying, unbalanced left say Cameron is, in private, ‘rubbing his hands’.

    Cameron is not too far behind the bigger majority in this country HOPING that now, finally, something will be done to deal with the unbalance between the private & public sector workers.
    The vast majority do respect the vital public sector workers and understand the role they play.
    What we oppose is the myth that because they play such a major role in everyone’s life they should somehow get more than the shopkeeper who sells us our food, the truck driver who moves our food around or the many thousands of private office workers who co-ordinate the running of the country.

    The only way this will happen is to unshackle the Conservatives…and there ARE still some ‘real’ ones on the government benches…from the Lib Dems, Coalitions & UKIP and get them in with a majority.
    Anything else in 2015 will take us in the completely wrong direction.If we want the
    Cameron ‘hand rubbing’ plan, instead of the usual hand wringing to come to completion we are the ones who can ensure it happens.

    If the left thought that by making this public knowledge it would make people see him in a bad light then they have fallen into another trap.
    I hope he was, and the government will win…Whether for good or for bad, they always do.

  • Andrew Fletcher

    the return to class war tribal politics is great fun but ultimately the real winners will be the Lib Dems as neither Tories nor Lab will now be able to secure an outright majority

    The Lib cabinet members are already jostling for position in the next coalition govt (post the next election) – Danny Alexander was pretty blatant on Newsnight the other night – supporting Osborne’s spending plans unequivocally – he reckons the coalition will form another govt. After the next GE and that he will elbow Clegg aside to be deputy PM (or even Chancellor if the Tory numbers fall significantly)

    Interesting times !!

  • Cynic

    And each group of needy citizens qualifies for a mass of levies and exemptions, of tax-cuts and top-ups, of hand-outs and grab-backs, of allowances and confiscations.” And that is the root of the trouble. All this complex bureaucracy requires a small army of pen-pushers to administer it. It is cumbersome and costly. Much better not to take the money off people in the first place than organise convoluted ways of giving them some of it back. Gordon Brown has so much to answer for!

  • Paddy

    Woody: Agree entirely. The Tories should take the gloves off and let them have it. We’ve had enough of these lefties…..playing every dirty trick.

    They even cry….the Tories are laughing at the cuts.

    The Government need to play smart….and play them at their own game.

    I hope the public saw Balls for the conniving bully he is.

  • Woody

    I have just heard Michael Gove being asked on SKY about David Cameron’s ‘insult’ calling EdM left-wing. I don’t recall the BBC or SKY challenging anyone on the ‘left’ being insulting when they call Conservatives ‘right-wing nutters’ or head-bangers.

    One thing this strike has shown, is just how biased the BBC and increasingly SKY are against the Conservatives. I really think it’s time the Conservatives and David Cameron started fighting back and challenging them more, as Michael Gove did today. Nicky Campbell on R5Live is very close to being abusive.

  • General Zod

    “irresponsible, left-wing and weak” has nothing to do with class-loathing. There is no comment on class, but an entirely appropriate disgust at the attitudes ofthe left.

  • Woody

    The uncontrolled glee and sheer macho enjoyment on Ball’s face was nauseating. This man and his silly little twerp of a leader just take politics down to the lowest level imaginable.

    I work in the NHS and I can say everyone of my colleagues were in work today, apart from those who couldn’t get childcare and will now lose a day’s pay out of their Christmas pay packet.

  • Maggie

    Little Johnny Bercow has signalled his approval of hand gestures from the Labour front bench by doing nothing about them. The Tories must join in without delay. I would recommend two fingers or one erect middle finger or a corkscrew motion to the side of the head. These should be directed towards Bercow as well as the opposition.

  • AAE

    I never thought I’d ever be grateful to Cameron for anything, but I welcome the fact that “left-wing” is at last being used as a term of opprobrium. It has already sparked outrage from the usual lefty subjects, as always ignoring the beam in their own eye, who for years have introduced certain commentators with a kind of public health warning with the epithet, right-wing. It’s high time that all those buzz words of the left, fairness, equality, diversity, progressive, and most perverse of all, liberal, should be punctured and replaced with honest empirical terms like socialist, communist, anarchist, totalitarian.

  • michael

    Bercow… some are more equal than others.

  • Tarka the Rotter

    Tyranny takes many forms, and one man’s tyranny is another man’s corporate state. Is not our new hereditary, self-perpetuating political elite a form of tyranny? Some see it as such… as for PMQs, well…so what? What difference does it make?

  • Ed P

    The Welfare Party’s supporters seem upset they may have to tighten their belts, almost as much as the private sector taxpayers (on whom they depend).

  • The Engineer

    Two points:

    1: re “Mr Bercow (whose new coat of arms bears the startling prediction that, ‘All Are Equal’)”,

    Not so much a prediction as an assertion.

    2: re “Cameron replied that he had boosted child tax-credit and added, puzzlingly, that if ‘you increase pensions you see child poverty go up.’”
    Not puzzling at all, because he also added (I paraphrase) ‘according to the way you [ie. Labour] calculate it’.
    Poverty being defined [by Labour inter alia] as those whose family income is less than a percentage of mean family income; it follows that if a particular group receive a disproportionate increase in income this will raise the mean income and other groups will appear relatively lower.

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