Lloyd Evans

Hark! A human at the dispatch box

Hark! A human at the dispatch box
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After years of fury and rancour in the chamber, the mood at PMQs was sober and rational today. (Personally, I hope it hots up again soon but the armistice certainly made a change). Under no pressure whatever, Cameron roamed at will over the full spectrum of government policy and gave intruiging hints about future priorities.

Tory backbencher Philip Davies urged him to cancel the subscriptions of 4000 convicts signed up for Sky TV. The PM didn’t seem bothered by this. They may not get the vote but they’ll carry on getting Adam Boulton. Cameron is more concerned by the 40 percent of prisoners who celebrate the end of their sentence by committing another crime. And he’s spotted that roughly half the UK’s prisoners while away their leisure hours with recreational drugs, although whether that’s too many or too few he didn’t say. A question about soft tarrifs for knife crime drew this significant response. ‘The power of the attorney general to appeal against lenient sentences hasn’t been used enough.’  

Harriet Harman decided to grace the house with a new suit apparently made from a plasticated silver fabric developed by NASA. In this gamma-ray-resistant creation she got to her feet and, with a shamelessness so vast it deserves its own seat on the Labour benches, she proceeded to harangue Mr Cameron for failing to fix her own mess quickly enough. Unaware how idiotic this sounded she invited the Tory leader to share her joy in an OBR prediction that under a Labour government the jobless total would have fallen for the next three years. Cameron managed to stifle his whoop of pleasure. She then accused him of talking the economy down. School-bully Cameron flashed back. ‘Never mind talking the economy down, They did the economy down. She should start with an apology.’  

Backbench questions were enlivened by the occasional flash of opportunistic folly. Elvyn Llwyd’s proposition to save £7m a day by evacuating Afghanistan was greeted in a total – and telling – silence.

When a new Tory MP asked Cameron a smarmy question the Labour benches set up a squawking and a wailing so raucous that Mr Bercow had to intervene. ‘It’s not against the rules of the house for a backbencher to support the government.’ ‘No, Mr Speaker,’ said Cameron, ‘And we all remember you doing that very well.’

It’s a relief, at last, to hear a prime minister who sounds like a human being and doesn’t calculate the electoral advantage of every syllable he utters just as it exits his busy gob. Asked about broadband for Scottish crofters, Cameron strayed onto the wider topic of countryside maintainence. ‘Our upland landscape is as beautiful as it is because it’s been farmed for centuries.’ Gordon Brown could never find that strain of simple, unaffected talk.

Cameron had it easy today but he didn’t make himself quite as comfy as Vince Cable, two spaces down from him. Mr Cable spent the entire session perfecting his impersonation of a pensioner on a sunny bench in Hastings, rubbing his eyes with his wrinkled old mitts and yawning like an overfed spaniel. Responsibility doesn’t suit him quite as well as rectitude. He won’t last long.