Would you Adam and Eve it? The Prime Minister actually seemed to enjoy PMQs today. With the whole of Westminster abuzz with whispered plots and covert knife-sharpenings perhaps the Commons seemed a haven of openness and civility by contrast. Brown got off to a lousy start though. He stuttered and fumbled through the names of the war dead, scuffing consonants, garbling regiments. And he finished the tribute on a weird note of grandiloquent defiance as if he were writing the epitaph of Gordon Brown, RIP, and his clique of apostles. ‘These men are exceptionally great men. And their service shall not be forgotten!’
Cameron got up. What an easy job: Six penalties against a goalie with no arms or legs. But he couldn’t find the angle. He told Brown that ‘his ability to command his cabinet has simply disappeared.’ The Blears resignation ‘is a direct challenge to his authority.’ Brown refused to engage him. ‘We should take a step back here and understand what’s been happening,’ he said pulling his condescending, jet-lagged, busy-busy-busy expression. He explained that the government had ‘two jobs of work’, the expenses scandal and the recession. You what? It’s business as usual? A preposterous idea but somehow he made it seem plausible. He even managed to praise Hazel the Hobbit’s work as Communities Secretary, helping with urban regeneration and ‘shopping centres.’ After three questions Dave had raised personalities three times which drew a tart rebuke from Brown. ‘Yet another week when there’s been not one question on policy.’ Cameron said he was delighted to discuss policy. The economy. He then asked Brown to promise not to sack the chancellor. A bad move. Conflating policy and personality is fine - unless you’ve just promised not to do it. Cameron made himself look opportunistic and shallow and Labour rallied noisily behind the PM. The house grew so rowdy that ‘suspension’ was threatened by the big pink blob in the Speaker’s chair. And despite two decent tries, Cameron didn’t get close to making Brown squirm over Darling’s future. ‘This Chancellor is leading the rest of the world in leading us out of recession!’ yelled Brown tautologically, a tic he immediately repeated. ‘The Tories are a party of words, words, words.’
Nick Clegg did his best to seem withering. ‘This country doesn’t have a government it has a void.’ A good opener but he over-Clegged the pudding. ‘Labour is finished!’ he thundered. ‘The only choice now is between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.’ That’s a great line at the LibDem conference but in Parliament it was met with a tornado of derision. Even Gordon Brown did his (rare) real smile and replied with vague but confident platitudes.
The gods certainly smiled on Brown today. No backbencher hit the target, not even Peter Tapsell whose question rambled on like a gobbet of Gibbon. Here’s the second half of it. ‘As the Rt. Hon. Gentleman has hinted that he wishes to gain a reputation as a constitutionalist may I suggest to him that – as he is almost uniquely unsuited to play the role of a latter-day Thomas Jefferson – he should use the traditional provisions of the constitution to ask Her Majesty for a dissolution.’ Brown grinned. ‘I’m grateful for his 300-year perspective on the matter.’ This was a strangely bloodless PMQs. Usually it’s the focal point of the Westminster week. But today all the best stuff is happening elsewhere.