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PMQs sketch: a subdued week, but the bear-pit will be back

8 January 2014

It’s a whole new kind of politics. The subdued atmosphere at PMQs had two possible causes. First, the tragic death of Paul Goggins had stunned the House into near silence. Ed Miliband seemed close to tears as he paid his tribute.

‘Labour has lost one of its own, and one of its best.’

Moving to more substantial issues, Miliband chose the neutral topics of monsoons and roulette machines.

He saluted the work of the flood-wardens and the efforts of courageous citizens who had leapt to each others’ aid during the storms. Cameron replied by vowing that river defences would be reinforced with huge sandbags stuffed with cash.

Then Miliband moved to fixed-odds betting machines. These electronic banditos are capable of grabbing up to £300 per minute from the pockets of self-deluding and ignorant fantasists, (most of whom seem to live in Labour constituencies, for some reason.) Miliband politely asked if local councils might be given the power to ban these beeping, blinking muggers.

They have that power already, said Cameron.

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I don’t believe they have, said Miliband.

This debate was so tame that Nick Robinson, on the BBC, hinted at a second reason for the soporific atmosphere. The parties have signed a truce to raise the tone of PMQs.

Then Cameron blew it. He made a blatantly political point by linking the gambling scourge to the rest of Labour’s legacy. In 2001, he said, Labour had relaxed the rules on high street gambling and created the conditions for a social catastrophe. Same thing with 24-hour drinking and the Wild West culture in the City. Betting, booze and banks. All Labour’s fault.

This sparked the session into life. Miliband had blown his chance to score points but his backbenchers rushed to do the job on his behalf.

John Mann revealed that ‘the cuts’ had forced police in Bassetlaw to patrol rural villages on double decker buses. When they spotted a burglar they rang the bell in the hope that the felon would climb aboard and into their clutches. Mr Mann’s gag was skewered by the Number 10 elves who had discovered that crime in Bassetlaw has plummeted.

‘By 27 percent!’ shouted Cameron.

And so the usual uproar reasserted itself. Afterwards, the BBC pundits discussed the tone of the debate. Chukka Umunna expressed his hope that PMQs might one day become a sensible and informed exchange of views conducted in pious, High Table tones. But all MPs say that. Not because they believe it but because it makes them seem public-spirited and statesmanlike. And they miss the point. PMQs is more like a compulsion than a sober attempt to apply reason to the processes of government.

Many viewers tune in each Wednesday in order to complain that there’s nothing worth watching. Others, like me, follow the weekly farce in an auto-erotic frenzy of masochistic despair. It’s ugly, it’s painful, it’s ludicrous, it’s sad, it’s futile, it’s spiritually lowering, and it leaves us covered in welts and bruises. But we love it. We can’t get away from it. We know that out there, somewhere, there are national parliaments that operate in a calm and high-minded fashion. But which parliaments? Where are they? We haven’t a clue. Because we don’t watch them. The cage-fight, the bear-pit, is what we crave. And so do MPs, in the end. They claim to yearn for a more sedate and grown-up atmosphere but really all they want is viewers. And that means blood.

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Show comments
  • Kennybhoy

    What is with that photo above?

  • Daniel Maris

    May I just protest at the inappropriateness of that photo.

    • Kennybhoy


  • Hello

    What kind of monkey chooses fixed-odds betting machines as the subject of their tough questions for the government? Has anyone ever met anyone who said to them knowingly, “I’ll tell you what the problem with this country is — fixed-odd betting machines”?

    He’s got you now, Flashman! The public will be furious if you try to wriggle your way out of this one!

    • MikeBrighton

      Yes we face national bankruptcy and the useless Tories have cut public spending by basically a rounding error (1% of spending over a leisurely 5 years) and continue to borrow in excess of £100bn per year, we have mass immigration displacing the working poor from employment and significantly reducing the employment prospects of our children and now the prospect of war in Asia China vs Japan possibly dragging the west into a major confrontation…..and the leader of the opposition thinks the biggest issue racing the Uk today is gambling machines installed in betting shops

      • Hello

        “and now the prospect of war in Asia China vs Japan possibly dragging the west into a major confrontation”

        Tee-hee. I think you’ll find that the West will not be dragged in, and that this is China’s ploy, and that it will essentially establish China as the foremost military power in the world. If China honestly believed that the US would get involved, then it would not be playing cat and mouse games with Japan.

        • MikeBrighton

          Why so rude and condesending with the “Tee-hee”?
          The west may well be dragged in if the US honours its treaty obligations to Japan. If it doesn’t then any treaty obligations of the US e.g NATO are worthless. Omaba is weak and vacillating but it’s unlikely he would walk away from this security architecture, if he does then the world architecture will be changed overnight. If China are gambling he will walk away then it’s a huge gamble on their part that they may regret. Remember we are not too far from the next US electoral cycle beginning, weakness here could spell death to the democratic candidate (maybe Clinton).
          As per your comment re China being the foremost military power, right now that is just laughable. I could write chapter and verse as to why but it would take too long. Suffice to say it’s US planes and submarines on the border of China and not the other way around and that is the case for the forseeable future. China is a long way and a long time from matching US military capabilities, doctrine, basing and technology. For example would China have the capability to field a blue-water carrier battle group on the Californian coast. Not for a long long time. You’ll note that US has several in the pacific. Also at the same time China makes operational it’s single ex-russian aged and rusting carrier (more a missile cruiser with a flight deck), the US is procuring the huge nuclear powered Gerald Ford class carriers to replace the smaller (but still huge) Nimitz class carrier.

  • CharlietheChump

    I think the evidence shows that, without Dave, (oh, and boy George) the Conservative Party would have won the election in 2010 handsomely

    • Denis_Cooper

      Well, the evidence certainly shows that without the LibDems successfully suckering about 11% of voters to support them rather than Labour, the Tories having proved incapable of doing that to the required extent, Labour would have won the election in 2010 handsomely.

      The left hand side of the charts here, the red and yellow lines during the following eight months or so:

      Many people unthinkingly assume that the LibDems stopped the Tories getting a Commons majority, but the truth is that without that vital help from the LibDems Cameron would not have become Prime Minister, instead it would have been Brown again.

  • Denis_Cooper
    • Bluesman_1

      Not so much ditching Green Crap as talking it.

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