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PMQs sketch: Bring back ya-boo politics – at least it’s watchable

5 March 2014

We all know what’s wrong with ya-boo politics. Today we saw what’s right with it. Instead of the usual shouting match we had a calm, well-mannered, (and deadly dull,) debate. Miliband devoted all six questions to Ukraine. The party leaders tried to outdo each other in self-importance, bombast and name-dropping. ‘High sentence’ was very much the style.

In Miliband’s estimation we face, ‘the biggest crisis on this continent since Kosovo.’ So for him the tangled history of Europe reaches all the way back to the 1990s. His verdict followed. ‘These actions deserve to be condemned unreservedly,’ he said unmelodiously.

Cameron blathered about the EU leaders’ summit tomorrow. Miliband agreed that this was a significant thing to blather about. ‘One important outcome,’ he said with excitement, ‘could be direct high-level talks between the US and Russia!’

Gosh. Not just direct talks. High-level too.

Obama and Putin smiling at each other through gritted teeth with a pretty fireplace in the background.

Cameron, affecting nonchalance, revealed that he intends to phone the American president later today. He sounded like a randy virgin readying himself for a trip to a massage parlour. He also mentioned the prospect of a ‘contact group’ which appears to be another vital tool in the armoury of international peace-keeping. But his real motive was to remind us that he suggested the same thing to the Poles in January.


Ahead of the game, isn’t he?

Miliband teased Cameron with a quote from 2008 but he didn’t follow it up. When Russia intervened in Georgia, Cameron (who was then opposition leader) spoke out against ‘Russian soldiers marching into other countries while Russian citizens march into Selfridges.’

Did Miliband want Cameron to sequester credit cards from London’s oligarchs? If so he didn’t make it clear. Cameron wagged his finger at the Russians and hinted that continued naughtiness would lead to ‘costs and consequences.’ A couple of c-words shackled together. This seems to be the most fearsome weapon left to Her Majesty’s government. Alliteration.

He also suggested that no royal patron will attend the Sochi Paralympics. Right. That’s Putin’s dreams of global domination crushed. Without a Hanoverian prince to pin gongs on disabled snowboarders he’ll have to dump his plans to rebuild the Soviet empire.

Backbench grandees got a chance to crack the crisis. Jack Straw, former foreign secretary, stood up looking clever and secretive. He’s had a week to pore over the maps and the history books and to devise a far-sighted diplomatic solution. Perhaps a temporary dismemberment of the Ukraine under a UN mandate with Crimea leased to Russia for 99 years subject to approval by the Security Council?

But no. Labour’s Talleyrand failed to mention Ukraine at all. He was worried about the Transpennine Express, (and as soon as he began to speak, members reached for their ear-plugs). He declared that crowded choo-choos on this busy northern route were being poached by Chiltern Rail. ‘For the ease and comfort of southern passengers.’ At this, everyone giggled like mad. Except poor Straw. ‘It’s no laughing matter for people in the north,’ he thundered feebly.

Cameron revealed that Straw has a home in the prime minister’s constituency. So he’s one of the ‘southern passengers’ he objects to. Howls of derision followed this. What a joy they were to hear. Ya-boo politics may be crude, catty and uninformative but at least it’s watchable. If viewers turn off, politicians will become ever more pompous and self-regarding.

And lazy. At one point, Cameron thanked Miliband for his comments, ‘this morning.’

He forgot what time of day it was.

Bin polite politics.

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  • Isthatright

    How awful that Jack Straw decided to raise
    a question of importance to his constituents, and one that is linked to
    infrastructure and therefore the economy – stupid. Even worse that they are
    northern constituents. I presume that Tory MP’s and those of other colours who
    also fail to live in their constituencies abstained from the very useful giggling.
    It would be awful if that level of hypocrisy was to creep in to spoil what the
    writer thinks is clearly highly effective method of boosting participation in
    political dialogue. I can’t wait for somebody to trip over their shoe lace next
    week – bloody riveting stuff.

  • Jambo25

    I do hope that a lot of people in the North of England were watching yesterday’s PMQs when Straw asked his question about the transfer of trains from the Trans Pennine route down to the Chilterns to make life easier for southern commuters at the expense of northerners. The immediate cat calling and derision from southern Tory MPs: their obviously couldn’t give a toss attitude towards northerners told its own story.

  • swatnan

    No, I prefer boring snoring PMQs. That way EdM doesn’t get hammered.
    Straw should know better than asking long winded questions, That was his swansong. Hopefully.

  • BarkingAtTreehuggers

    Gosh. This reads like the Kalmar Union in 1523 coming to terms with the fact that the clock was ticking. Fast forward 500 years, an inpoverished US, Scots ready to jump ship, and the only hope a united European armed forces to at least keep hold of the last rashers of our (Danish) bacon.

  • HookesLaw

    Sketch writing is not what it was.

  • James Allen

    Well said, Sir……

  • Peter Stroud

    It was clear that Miliband dared not mention the Rock cover up. Had he have done so, Mrs and Mr Harman would have been exposed to jibes about the NCCL and PIE. Neither story has yet ran its course.

    • HookesLaw

      There is no Rock cover up. Did the police announce his arrest?

      • Wessex Man

        no, forced to cover up by Call me Dave after Pebgate!

  • Harold Angryperson

    Jack Straw – forgotten, but alas not gone…

    • Wessex Man

      nor ever forgiven!

  • CharlietheChump

    We are constantly told that other countries envy the opportunity we give our opposition to question the PM (though now only once a week) but it actually achieves nothing at all, nobody fesses up, there’s always a decently prepared answer or often no answer just a counter statement.
    No, this is no longer good enough. We need full FoI openness and ALL government information open sourced online.
    There is no longer a persuasive case for sending representatives to Parliament any more if we can achieve much greater scrutiny of government.

    • HookesLaw

      Only a chump would suggest that. Perhaps we should have all discussions at the Spectator to be laid out on line – after all they want your money.

  • DaveL

    The end of ya-boo politics might bring the end of ya-boo reporting…

    • Alex

      “Ya-boo politics may be crude, catty and uninformative but at least it’s watchable.”

      Can we please have more articles by those who can find sensible and informed debate interesting. And fewer by those who can’t.

      • BarkingAtTreehuggers

        Apologies but I found the author’s choice of words highly likeable.

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