Lloyd Evans

Cameron faces the barmy army

Cameron faces the barmy army
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Ed Miliband came to PMQs hoping to turn the House into a rape crisis centre for the Justice Secretary. Quoting from Ken Clarke’s tricky Radio Five interview earlier he criticised him for distinguishing between ‘serious’ and ‘other categories’ of rape. Would the PM distance himself from his minister? Cameron claimed not to have heard the interview – conveniently enough – and pointed out that the policy is still at the consultation stage. His priority was to correct a system in which all but 6 per cent of reported rapes result in no conviction at all. Miliband plugged away, upping the stakes, widening the issue and claiming to have spotted a character flaw in the PM ‘who hides behind a consultation’ as soon as a policy hits trouble. Ritualistically he called for Clarke’s sacking ‘by the end of the day.’ Cameron replied that the Labour government had installed a mandatory system of early releases. ‘The opposition leader sat in a cabinet that set eighty thousand prisoners free!’ The two leaders fought the issue to a standstill and Miliband’s ‘Kill Ken’ strategy fizzled out. Then the barmy army of backbenchers took over.

Paul Flynn was rude about Trident which he called ‘a national virility symbol that hasn’t been used in 70 years of military operations.’ Julian Lewis, a keen advocate of the independent deterrent, implored the PM to elevate the issue above party politics altogether. Cameron said he was tempted to park a nuclear sub in the Solent ‘on the border of his constituency and give him the codes.’

Sir Peter Tapsell, the Tories’ favourite maverick, made an intervention which was strange even by his standards. Referring to the revived investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann he asked Cameron to open a new inquiry into ‘the suicide or murder’ of David Kelly. Pretty eccentric to link the Kelly affair to the unrelated case of an abducted child. Odder still to mispronounce Madeleine’s surname so it sounded like McCain, the famous manufacturer of oven chips.

Tory backbencher Simon Kirby mischievously asked the PM to offer his support to Peter Hyman (Blair’s old speech writer) as he sets up a free school in London. Labour members grumbled and Cameron twisted the knife. The new Labour faithful, he crowed, ‘had listened with such rapt attention to what he said for so many years.’ The PM then turned to Andy Burnham and his recent backward somersault on free schools. Burnham had clarified his position with this non sequitur: ‘Just because he’s opposed to the free school policy doesn’t mean he’s opposed to every free school.’ The Tories enjoyed that one. And Cameron couldn’t help throwing in Prescott’s brilliant articulation of Labour’s secondary education policy. ‘You can’t have new good schools because everyone might want to go to them.’ It’s back to Old Labour, said Cameron. So it was.

Labour’s Flashman, Dennis Skinner, got to his feet – to scant applause from his own side – and berated the PM for what he considered an unacceptable increase in the number of millionaires living in Britain. ‘Inflation’s going through the roof,’ he raged, ‘and there are thousands of blind people marching the streets to protect their benefits.’ No one could fault him for passion. The great slab of his face empurpled so rapidly that his jowls began to shake, and his pale, boiling eyeballs looked set to ping out and land with a splat onto the floor. ‘What a savage indictment of this rotten Tory government!’ he howled, ‘propped up by these pathetic Liberals.’ Then he flung out his hands in a garbage-disposal gesture and flounced back onto his seat. Cameron maddened him with a cool smirk. ‘I can see he enjoyed that,’ said the prime minister. ‘But he should go back to Dinosaur Land.’