“We need to change, and we will change, the way we behave. I’m fed up with the Punch and Judy politics of Westminster, the name calling, backbiting, point scoring, finger pointing,” David Cameron declared in his first speech as the newly elected leader of the Conservative Party, in December 2005.
How things have changed. Today Prime Minister’s Questions was a veritable pit of point scoring and finger pointing, with the Prime Minister leading the way.
The Conservatives have hit on the issue of Ed Miliband’s heavy dependence on trade union funds, and the allegations of vote fixing in Falkirk, where the Unite union has been trying to secure a safe Commons seat for Karie Murphy, a former union official and friend of Len McCluskey, Unite’s general secretary.
During the half-hour of questions, David Cameron mentioned Len McCluskey by name five times, and Unite 10 times. Ed Miliband challenged him about class sizes; Cameron retorted that “his questions are written by Len McCluskey of Unite”. Gemma Doyle, whose husband, Gregor Poynton, has been in direct conflict with Unite in Falkirk, asked about the work programme; Cameron mentioned Unite three times in response. And so it went on.
Almost the only Labour MP not to have Unite hurled at him was Geoffrey Robinson, who mentioned the Royal Bank of Scotland. Cameron replied that Robinson “has great experience of lending money…”.
That might sound like a compliment but actually it referred to the secret loan that Robinson made over to Peter Mandelson, which caused both to resign from the government, nearly 15 years ago. While the Tories laughed at this acid wit, Robinson looked bewildered. It was so noisy that he could not hear what Cameron said, and did not know why they were laughing.
The occasion was catastrophically humiliating for Ed Miliband, who is vulnerable to the accusation that he is in the grip of the big unions.
As if having to sit through all that was not bad enough, it transpired that the notes that his staff had prepared before the performance started had been left in a toilet in the division lobby in the House of Commons, where someone picked them up and passed them to the Tories, who happily distributed copies around the building.
One of the revelations they contained was that Miliband was anticipating being attacked over the role of his campaign chief, Tom Watson, who employs Karie Murphy in his office. “I’ll take Tom Watson over Andy Coulson any day,” he was going to reply.
That was today in the Mother of Parliaments.
Gillard takes being deposed on the chin
Julia Gillard, the daughter of Welsh nurses who rose to be Australia’s first woman prime minister, is reported to have taken her abrupt dismissal by her own party’s MPs with some dignity. She has not uttered a disloyal word about Kevin Rudd, the Labor party leader whom she deposed in 2010, who has now deposed her back.
On the night she lost her job, the Australian press is now reporting, she turned up casually dressed, wine in hand, to tell the 100 or so people who had assembled at the Prime Minister’s residence: “Don’t let this disillusion you – shit happens.”
She is back at home in Altona, a suburb of Melbourne, with Tim Mathieson, who was the subject of one of the extraordinary moments in her premiership.
Interviewed last month on Perth radio by a DJ named Howard Sattler, she was asked whether Mathieson was gay, because he is a hairdresser.
“But you hear it: he must be gay, he’s a hairdresser; it’s not me saying it,” Sattler persisted. Sattler and Gillard now have something in common: they are both out of a job.
John McTernan, Tony Blair’s former adviser who went Down Under to be Gillard’s political secretary, is also no longer employed, though he is planning to reinvent himself as a journalist. And, of course, he has more time to relax.
“Got my iPod on shuffle songs and the playlist is exactly the same as the last time it was on shuffle,” was one of many tweets he posted.
Women leading the way in Edgbaston
Congratulations to the good people of Birmingham Edgbaston, who have achieved a rare milestone this week of 60 unbroken years of being represented in Parliament by a woman.
First it was Edith Pitt, a Conservative, who won a by-election in July 1953, after her predecessor moved to the Lords. From 1966 to 1997 it was Jill Knight, a redoubtable reactionary now in the Lords, hoping to be the first woman to chalk up 50 years’ membership of the two Houses of Parliament. In 1997, Labour’s Gisela Stuart became Edgbaston’s first non-Tory MP since 1898. She is organising a charity fundraiser to mark the 60 years.
MP’s pay freeze is open-and-shut case
Stephen Phillips, Tory MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham, is among those who have spoken up against receiving a pay rise. “This is not the time for any substantial increase. That could only happen as and when the economy is fully recovered,” he told the Lincolnshire Echo.
Mr Phillips is a QC and part-time judge. In the Register of Members’ Interests, he declares payments totalling £717,698.37 for legal work carried out between October 2010 and January 2013. In 2012-13, he also claimed £19,294.65 in office costs and travel expenses. His wife, Fiona, is also a barrister. So you can see how Mr Phillips might manage without a “substantial” increase in his £66,396 MP’s annual salary.
Mandelson gets a high-speed retort
Lord Mandelson’s pronouncement in the Financial Times that he now thinks the Government should abandon the proposed high-speed rail link from London to Birmingham did not impress the Liberal Democrat Transport minister Norman Baker, who said: “Thankfully, since Blair and Brown are gone the country no longer has to do whatever Peter Mandelson says.”