Fraser Nelson

The Commons’ bizarre new chemistry

The Commons' bizarre new chemistry
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It still looks like your TV set is on a horizontal flip when you see Cameron at the government dispatch box. Even more disorientating to see Chris Huhne on the front bench and Nick Clegg beside Cameron - making supportive facial gestures on areas he agrees with (pupil premium), and looking quizzical on areas on which he does not (marriage). Cameron’s performance shows that Britain has just had a tremendous upgrade in the eloquence of its Prime Minister: his performance was no better than as Leader of the Opposition, but still at a high standard. Without Brown’s henchmen leading Labour, their backbenchers were disorientated. But still rather numerous: Labour has 258 MPs, more MPs than any party which has not gone on to win the next election.

Interestingly, Cameron was questioned by Tory backbenchers about policies dropped by the coalition, and was teased by Labour MPs about how a “great majority” in the House “distrust and despise the Liberal Democrats.” As for Harman, she does have a certain panache and she’s effective in Prime Minister’s Question Time. In the old days, Hague was her sparring partner. On marriage, she said, “Nick agrees with me” - won’t it cost half a billion quid to recognise marriage?” Cameron pointed to Labour’s plans of jacking up inheritance tax margins. “If recognising marriage is such a good thing for the better off, why doesn’t she do it for the worse off?” Great lines.

I would have liked Cameron to have ditched the tradition, invented by Blair, of kicking off PMQs by listing the casualties in Afghanistan. It speaks to Blair’s lack of military knowledge that he thought this appropriate: in the field, they hate it; thinking it gives a narrative of failure. You have the impression that the whole House is adjusting to the new chemistry. Labour’s strategy is clearly to drive a wedge between the Conservatives and the LibDems – Cameron will try to walk the line. I have a feeling that it will take until the summer recess for PMQs to get into its stride.