Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The return of Bagpuss

PMQ sketch, Herald Wednesday 21 Jan.

How is it possible for a thin man to have such a large shadow? Next to George Osborne on the Conservative front benches yesterday sat Ken Clarke. That’s the “shadow, Shadow Chancellor” jibed the Prime Minister, which raised a laugh even from Mr Clarke who’s been around and back enough times to spot a scripted gag when he sees one.

There a trend for comebacks right now. Peter Mandelson is back in government we know, although his lordship was not hanging upside down from the rafters of the Commons chamber yesterday, as he has taken to doing during daylight hours on Wednesdays.

In our cinemas Mickey Rourke is back as “The Wrestler”, his body having worn better than his face in the intervening years. Now Ken Clarke is back on the Tory front bench, his body and demeanour completely unaltered by nine years languishing on the green benches, smoking cigars and generally having a good time.

If Saturday afternoon wrestling comes back to ITV, or if Ofcom allow them to start broadcasting it instead of regional news opt-outs, Mr Clarke could go for the part of Big Daddy. Yesterday he sat, where he has always thought he ought to sit, looking like the cat that got the cream. Actually, more like the cat from the children’s television series, Bagpuss.

How pleased he looked to be back in his old role as “the most important, the most beautiful, the most magical, saggy, old cloth cat in the whole, wide world”.

Bagpuss, although he has the title role, doesn’t play a major part in most of the stories as I remember. He is content to lie on his rug and listen to the songs the others sing as they identify and repair the “thing” that Emily brings in. That is just what Mr Clarke did as he watched the other characters sing and shout about the thing to fix this week, which was, as it is every week in the Commons, the economy.

On a rival channel a new superhero cartoon, imported from America, Obamaman, offers some hope. But the chamber, which had just 13 MPs present on Tuesday during the inauguration ceremony, was kind of Obama-ed out so Mr Brown’s opening bat about the president not urging his fellow Americans “let’s do nothing” only scored one point.

Ken Clarke chuckled but David Cameron wasn’t going to be beaten by a jokes as weak the British currency, even if the PM was laughing openly at him. He got back up and asked another angry question about the economy. Mr Brown did what he does every week now on the economy, what no good children’s TV presenter should do, he patronised Mr Cameron. “I think I should explain to him, and he has got the benefit now of having a new, shadow Shadow Chancellor to help him...” Cue uproar.

Ken Clarke liked that one too but the Slim Jim beside him, George Osborne, just stared at David Cameron’s script notes as the Prime Minister droned to an end. Sure enough there was a gag written there.

“I’m delighted he’s mentioned the Right honourable member for Rushcliffe ,” said Mr Cameron, all faux nonchalance. “The difference between this former chancellor (Bagpuss) and that former chancellor (the Shopkeeper from Mr Benn) is that this one left a golden legacy and that one wrecked it.” He shoots, and kicks Bagpuss into the back of the government net. That was worth two points surely.

“He’s failed to get the banks lending again,” said Mr Cameron now in his stride about the £37 billion recapitalisation and the bank crashes. “Simple maths, as things stand the taxpayer has lost £20 billion.”

That niggled Mr Brown: “They should really grow up. The point of the recapitalisation of the banks was to stop them collapsing. What is his alternative to the capitalisation of his banks?” Big mistake.

“If you‘re asking us questions,” quipped Mr Cameron, “have an election.”
His own side loved it. The mice in the church organ woke up, Gabriel the Toad burst into song and Professor Yaffle, the distinguished old Tory woodpecker waved his order paper around. Oh Bagpuss, what a lot of attention you can generate just by sitting in the shop window.

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