Seasonal bullshit and humbug in the House

You stagger into the House, Christmas lunch congealing in your digestive system

The Tories are tetchy, Labour

is tetchy, I'm tetchy. It's that time of year when preparing to be happy is driving us all mad. Only the Ulster Unionists are unaffected by the season - and that's because they are always tetchy.

After battling with mad shoppers, you stagger into the House and sit uncomfortably in the Chamber, the juices of the various beverages and roasts you've consumed congealing in the bends and corners of your digestive system. And then some bastard asks you a question.

If you're very unlucky - as the environment minister Robert Jones was - this will be Rhodri Morgan (Lab, Cardiff West) wanting to know about "faecal streptococci" (or poo, as we English call it) in Welsh sea-water. Now, this was the last thing that the fastidious Mr Jones wanted to talk about, and he replied thus: "The honourable gentleman revels in undermining the British tourist industry!"

Mr Morgan's colleagues (like me) presumably believe it is the faecal streptococci that do the undermining: a swimmer finding herself face to face with drifting ordure will not blame Rhodri Morgan for having brought it to her attention. So Michael Meacher (remember him? He's in the Shadow Cabinet) pointed out that - this year - 47 beaches were found to be below standard.

The bearded Mr Jones (who by now had forgotten that the ostensible purpose of ministerial question-time is for him to be asked questions and then to answer them) told Mr Meacher all about the "last Labour government, of which he was a particularly undistinguished member". Maybe. But whenever I see shit in the water, I shall think of Mr Jones.

This scatological theme spilled over (so to speak) into Prime Minister's Questions. Maria Fyfe (Lab, Glasgow Maryhill) kicked off with a question in Gaelic (I think) in which the only words that I could make out were "restricted incontinence pads to two per person". (I know such pads are not funny and one day I shall be grateful for them etc. But following on from the streptococci and Christmas dinner, it was all getting to me.) Mr Major is more gracious than his junior colleague, and forbore from accusing Ms Fyfe of talking down the British sanitary industry. Instead he reminded everyone of the 70 improvements in primary health care announced that very day.

It only remained for Tony Blair to wish the Prime Minister a happy Christmas - which he did in his own inimitable way by asking for the umpteenth time about the BSE crisis. Most of us in the gallery have only to hear the words "What is the date by which . . ." before we groan with boredom and wonder how on earth we are going to write about this yet again. Each time it's the same. Tone discovers from JM that he has no timetable for the beef ban to be lifted, and then reminds him that - back in May - he said it would all be over by Christmas. Which is very, very boring of Mr Blair. And yet, if anyone examines Hansard for the 21 May - the day on which Mr Major declared the Semen and Tallow War officially open - they will discover what the PM secretly knows: that this exercise in foreigner-baiting, blame- shifting, banner-waving and back-covering was both discreditable and (inevitably) futile. Only when he admits it should he be allowed off the hook.

Harrumph.

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