I’m not used to learning anything from the weekly pantomime that is Prime Minister’s Questions. Sadly, though yesterday’s session brought me the news of the death of Marie Colvin, the veteran Sunday Times reporter whose often heartbreaking reports from war zones I’ve been reading most of my adult life. Both David Cameron and Ed Miliband paid tribute to her work, the latter calling her brave, tireless and an inspiration to women in her profession. More tragedy followed as Sajid Javid, the MP for Bromsgrove, asked the PM to join in with sympathy for those killed and injured in the bus crash involving children and staff from Alvechurch School.
It amazes me how seamlessly the Prime Minister, feeding off the querulous atmosphere in the Chamber, can go from talking about a very tragic situation to throwing verbal brickbats at the Opposition and in particular its leader.
Having said that, he seemed to go a bit easy on Ed Miliband yesterday. He didn’t take the obvious temptation to throw in a quote from Alex Hilton’s blistering criticism of the Labour leader with every answer, merely choosing to end their exchange with the stinging:
“You are not articulating a vision or a destination, you’re not clearly identifying a course and no-one’s following you…My problem is that you are not a leader.”
This was after one of Ed Miliband’s better performances. He’d led on the NHS, castigating the PM’s health summit for including few health workers and following up with increasingly specific questions on the commissioning of care, citing HIV services at Homerton Hospital as an example. This didn’t suit Cameron’s agenda, which was to talk about people who’d not published Risk Registers in the past. He had one A Burnham, Labour’s health secretary in mind.
John Bercow intervened several times during their exchange. He implored MPs to strive to be “tranquil and statesmanlike.” At noon on a Wednesday? A tad ambitious for them, so his later remarks seemed to be obsessed with pulling up MPs for not referring to each other in the third person. Which of these offends you more – hearing someone being addressed as “you” or seeing a bunch of mostly men behaving like a baying mob in the Mother of Parliaments?
However, there were moments of decorum, mostly provided by Liberal Democrats. Julian Huppert secured the PM’s backing for the Times’ Cycle Safe campaign. Mike Crockart was not so lucky when he asked if the PM had been persuaded by his trip to Edinburgh last week that this was an ideal location for the Green Investment Bank.
Every time Conservative Peter Bone gets up to speak, he throws in some family anecdote. Usually he refers to something Mrs Bone has said to him, but today his young son took centre stage for apparently asking whether Nick Clegg was a goodie or a baddie. The House erupted in laughter as Cameron joked that there was only so much detail he can take about the Bone household. He didn’t say Nick Clegg was a goodie, though. For that, Liberal Democrats can be grateful.