Parliament & Politics: Beef, Mr Hague? No thanks, I'll have the interest-free issue, please

The Sketch

ON A cursory glance into the crystal ball there seemed little doubt about which target Mr Hague would attack during Prime Minister's Question time yesterday. The morning's newspapers had been full of words like "climb-down", "retreat" and "cave-in", and the previous night grim- faced Labour spokesmen had sat helplessly as Mr Paxman gave them both barrels of his scorn-cannon. Beef was surely on the menu.

But more careful prognosticators will have noticed something odd about the omens, something that should have been there but was not. As the sun rose on this day of capitulation, The Sun had no froth on its face. A whole china shop of patriotic fury lay open before it, but it declined to charge.

Mr Hague did not even go that far. There was not a single word about the government's accommodation with the hated enemy, not even the faintest whiff of roasted minister or char-grilled premier. No, Mr Hague was worried instead about "small information technology companies", under threat from IR35. This was not a new front entirely, but a stretch of the "stealth tax" battle lines that had not yet seen any action. But even so there was knitting of eyebrows as Mr Hague bombarded this virgin ground. There were only two possible explanations; either Mr Hague thought there was a real chance of a break-through here (in the best-case scenario General Blair would have completely forgotten what IR35 was and be forced to withdraw in humiliating disorder), or persons unknown had pulled a smart flanking action. Had Mr Hague been givena canny briefing about a covert deal with the French that would effectively tie his hands in the house?

Whatever the reason for the beef ceasefire it made for a dull and messy session. Mr Hague tried to embarrass Mr Blair with the prospect of Labour ructions over the Welfare Reform Bill while Mr Blair repeatedly pointed out that the Tories had effectively signed up for some pounds 4 billion in extra spending. Mr Hague had a soundbite about the knowledge economy and how Mr Blair was clearly not part of it. Mr Blair had a soundbite about the difference between "serious opposition and serious opportunism". But both sides of the house had to settle for noisy barracking to generate any sense of genuine engagement. After Charles Kennedy had asked a pertinent but underpowered question about the means-testing of benefits, Tory MPs began jabbing their fingers at the Labour backbenches and shouting "Look behind you! Look behind you!" Miss Boothroyd gave vent to a rare snarl of personalised distaste: "Order, order!", she snapped, "Or I will suspend the session...I've had enough of these people here".

The only gleam of entertainment came in a question from Lembit Opik - not because of his opening joke ("it was worth a try" he said, incorrectly, into the howling silence that followed its delivery) but because he reminded us of the most comically sublime example of consensus politics yet devised. Mr Opik wanted the Prime Minister to take on board the ideas of The Middle Way Group, an organisation which argues that hunting should not be banned, but properly regulated. This would presumably require the creation of a regulatory body - Offox - which could then supervise acceptable working hours for vixens and police the provision of pit-head showers for working terriers. But perhaps it is wrong to be dismissive. After all, if blood sports like beef baiting can be brought under control, there is no knowing what might be achieved.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future