Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Cam's low key Prime Minister's Questions

Through the mirror of the new House of Commons everything is reversed and some things are forever changed.

There's David Cameron, to the manor born, looking as if he has been standing at the dispatch box with just a few notes to hand all his life.

Nick Clegg still has not managed to suppress that slightly bewildered look he has as he stares up at the galleries and sits silently by the Prime Minister’s side.

The Tories sit where Labour did, on the government benches, and the Lib Dems sit where Labour did, on the government benches - so that is very new. Former Ministers line up like glum and redundant journeymen on the opposition seats.

The SNP have not moved, third row up on the downward side of the opposition gangway - but then some of them do think that the world revolves around them.

I see Labour MPs like Ian Davidson parking tanks on their lawn and squeezing in beside Pete Wishart. Chums they are not.

Labour’s awkward squad - Dennis Skinner and Ronnie Campbell - sit downwind from their own frontbench, just as they did in government. From there they can heckle either side effectively. John Cryer, back in the Commons for a second time, has been made an honorary member of their team and planted his Doc Martens between the two veteran mavericks.

Sheridan, Donahoe and Cairns are resting against the panelling on the far backbenches where even if they can’t be seen quite seen they will be heard. Ann McGuire is one bench in front and Ann Begg is parked in front of the serjeant at arms.

There’s Alistair Carmichael, posing as the Colossus of Rhodes astride the end of the benches. He’s a government whip now and one imagines him keeping the coalition in order with the white rod he holds as Comptroller of the Royal Purse.

On the government side there’s a whole muddle of new faces that will take some time and a Hansard facebook for journalists to familiarise themselves with. The Lib Dems are mostly on one side of the gangway but to be honest but spotting them is like looking for your own sheep at a village fank.

Front and centre is David Cameron who set a low key tone for his premiership with his performance at his first Prime Ministers Questions.

With the occasion overshadowed by sombre events in Cumbria the traditionally boisterous confrontation event is a quiet affair although the Commons benches are packed.

Cameron’s own response to the unfolding events in Cumbria is formal and unassuming. He says that the country’s “thoughts” were with those families who had lost loved ones, words which do not reach the bar set by Tony Blair when, early in his premiership, he had to respond to the death of Princess Diana.

Cameron - in contrast to Brown and Blair before him - does not bring several large folders of briefing documents to the dispatch box but instead relied on a few sheets of notes.

Sitting by his side, deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, fights off an expression of boredom for half an hour. He will not ask questions as he is part of the coalition Government. Instead, he will hold his own question and answer session once a month.

Harriet Harman, Labour’s deputy leader, is ready to spar with Cameron on plans to end the anonymity of alleged rape victims in court cases in England and the marriage tax break.

Harman, renowned for her feminist politics, says that Cameron’s “married man” allowance of £3 a week will do nothing to keep people together and do nothing to plug the deficit.

She suggests that the Conservatives and the Lib Dems are divided on the issue. “On this one, Nick agrees with me.”

Several new MPs manage to get questions in and are politely received by the new Prime Minister.

it takes a veteran to steal the show on the first day. Ian Davidson, Glasgow South West MP, neatly exposes the rifts that run across the Commons and the coalition.

Sitting on the benches usually occupied by nationalist MPs he makes common cause with rightwing Tory backbenchers who oppose the coalition with Lib Dems.

“Comrade Premier”, Davidson begins his question to howls of laughter across the Commons.

“What?” asks the Glasgow MP in mock surprise. “Are we not all in this together? Are the vast majority of us, apart from only a small sect, in favour of strengthening the union of the union of the United Kingdom? And do the vast majority of us not dislike, distrust and despise the Liberal Democrats?”

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