In between confusing the Chamber just a little bit more on his European policy this afternoon, David Cameron appeared to be auditioning to work as his own press officer, reading out a list of the government’s achievements such as falling unemployment and lower inflation figures over the past week to MPs, just in case they’d missed them, as evidence that Britain does have a great deal to offer to Europe.
He had already taken pains to emphasise this earlier today after his crime speech, saying:
‘We need to focus on the big picture. What actually happened last week is that unemployment fell, inflation fell, waiting lists in our hospitals fell, crime fell, the right decision was made about Gary McKinnon. Those are the important things that are happening in an economy where we’ve created a million private sector jobs in the last two years. There will always be people that will go on endlessly about process and processology and Kremlinology and all the rest of it: what actually matters is what is happening out there.’
The Prime Minister seemed a bit grumpy during his Commons statement – not Prime Minister’s Questions-style grumpy, but still rattled – and this wasn’t helped by the appearance of Chris Bryant towards the end of the debate. Bryant asked a question about Russia’s stance on the bloodshed in Syria. Not an annoying personal question, you might think, but still one that prompted Cameron to say this:
‘I’m afraid we did not get the apology we were waiting for. We will have to be patient.’
He did then answer that specific question, but the Prime Minister clearly hasn’t spent his weekend wracked with remorse at his rather childish spat with the Labour MP in the Commons and in an ensuing letter exchange last week.
His statement followed another Conservative trying to deal with the consequences of their behaviour: Andrew Robathan reacted with fury at Defence questions to two queries from Labour about allegations that he had asked for the public gallery to be cleared in a debate last week where current and past members of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers broke into applause. ‘Absolutely not!’ he shouted when Jack Dromey asked about it. Angela Smith then pressed for further details. She said:
‘There’s a degree of confusion now about what happened in the debate last Thursday so can I ask you to confirm the armed forces minister approached the Speaker’s chair about the conduct of the fusiliers in the public gallery?’
‘I’m grateful to be able to set the record straight. I have the greatest respect for ex-service personnel, including the fusiliers that were in the chamber. Can I say furthermore I believe anybody should be allowed to watch our proceedings from the gallery because it is a very important part of the democratic process. Can I finally say, what you allege is entirely untrue.’
The claims about Robathan are not going to blow up into an Andrew Mitchell-style row, but that and Cameron’s grumpiness do the government little favours when the Prime Minister is trying to move matters on from last week’s troubles, especially when so much of the problem has been about personality and attitude. Neither will reading out the headlines on jobs and inflation that the Number 10 press machine was supposed to be working for last week. And if the PM does want his press machine to function better, he should try to tame his tongue a little: after all, the fiasco over energy companies was his own doing in the chamber and had nothing to do with those in Number 10.