Parliament: The Sketch: Foxes lament official failure to make hen-houses secure

AS REBELLIONS go, it was a very courteous affair. Iain Duncan Smith, speaking to the guillotine motion that began proceedings (and which allowed Tories to indulge in the perverse satisfaction of taking up time complaining that they weren't being given enough time) had popped across the Channel to bring back an analogy for the skulduggery of the Government.

Blair was Louis XIV, he suggested, a paragon of centralised state power, and Gordon Brown his sinister cardinal, gliding through the corridors of the House to corrupt honourable members. Alistair Darling began as the Man in the Iron Mask (the analogy appeared to be getting a bit out of hand by this time) but Mr Duncan Smith ended by encouraging him to emulate Sidney Carton, from A Tale of Two Cities. This was the moment, he implied, for the ancient regime (aka Labour Nouveau) to be overthrown by the downtrodden populace.

In a speech of unctuous fidelity, Gerald Kaufman rose to rally the mob to the royalist cause - revolt would do them no good, he said, only comfort the enemies of their friend and protector, King Tony. But one had to wonder why he felt the need at all. If the storming of the Bastille had been conducted along these lines it would have been a curious affair indeed - the rioters advancing in orderly fashion on the prison governor's lodgings and informing him that they were frightfully sorry but there might be some noise in the next few hours; there was nothing personal about it, and if he could just open the gate a pinch they would all avoid a lot of unpleasantness.

But the rebels also had some solid cobblestones to throw. Dr Roger Berry's speech in favour of the dissenting amendment quietly and courteously took out several of the ministerial arguments in favour of changing the rules on incapacity benefit. Spending wasn't rising, he pointed out, it was actually falling - so long-term savings couldn't be the reason. And nor could existing fraud either, since current recipients wouldn't be affected by the changes. "Perhaps the Tories didn't cut enough," he said, provoking a murmur of "shame" from a colleague. "Yes, it is a shame," he said quietly, deflecting the rebuke to his own front bench.

Frank Field made an effective speech, too, emphasising the moral consistency of Labour's opposition to means-testing, but also taking pains to illuminate the extraordinary mass conversion of the Tories to the cause of the dispossessed. There was indeed something eerie about the spectacle of the opposition benches. For Mr Field it brought to mind the Moonies but I felt it was more like watching a succession of foxes angrily denouncing the lack of security around the hen-house, speeches that were only slightly undermined by the fact that the vehemence of their indignation would occasionally dislodge a bloodstained feather from their chops. The wiser of them knew that the more time they left for Labour dissenters the better.

They will have enjoyed Audrey Wise's intervention, the first touch of fire. When she and her colleagues had fought for redistribution, she said scathingly, we didn't mean redistribution "from some disabled people to other disabled people". But she also inadvertently cheered the front bench, after invoking the historic precedent of 1976, when rebellious backbenchers forced Jim Callaghan to keep a promise about child benefit. Three years later candidates were able to go into the election with their heads held high, she said thrillingly. "And you lost!" shouted the front bench as one. That they said "you" and not "we" was telling. The debate ended with yet more heartfelt courtesies from back and front benches, but the vote itself suggested there was still plenty of clear water between "them" and "us".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there