Lloyd Evans

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

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