Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Absent Lib Dems miss Ed Davey’s frolics


While the Lib Dem Energy Secretary Ed Davey was opening the Queen’s Speech debate, the Labour MP Gisela Stuart gleefully rose to point out that the Liberal Democrat backbenches were empty. “My Honourable Friends may be in Newark,” Davey said vaguely.

This seemed surprising, since it would surely have been an act of heroic optimism – not to say a complete waste of time – to rush to Nottinghamshire to try to turn around the party’s also-ran status in the by-election.

Either way, so passionate was he in praise of the Coalition – and in denunciation of the Opposition – that even the Tory MP Dominic Raab referred to the “partisan frolic” Davey was embarking on.

In some ways his – and to be fair his opposite number Caroline Flint’s – speech was oddly out of tune with the best of the debate as it developed on the backbenches. Ms Stuart’s intervention unwittingly drew attention to the dearth of MPs of any party. More, however it runs out, does not always mean better.

Despite – or perhaps because – of that, there were at least some surprises, even some political cross-dressing. We had the Tory Jeremy Lefroy proposing a “National Health Insurance” to raise the significant extra funds needed to keep the NHS free at the point of use.

And Labour’s Clive Betts suggesting that English devolution – he didn’t actually say a parliament – would need to follow Devo Max in Scotland. And Tory Caroline Spelman making such a thoughtful and humane speech on trafficking and slavery that the left- wing Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn was moved to describe it as “excellent”.

More familiarly, we earlier had the Leader of the Commons, Andrew Lansley, answering questions on Parliamentary business in his most amiably laid-back style. Asked about the blazing, ultra-rivalrous row between Michael Gove and Theresa May, he said with wonderful blandness: “We have robust discussions inside government... you know, they are not worse than the kind of discussions that took place in the last government.”

Pressed to say whether the PM would be making a statement on the imminent G7 summit, he said that would depend on whether “the G7 ministers discuss something important that should be reported to the House”.

Hmmm. If they don’t do that, what exactly is the point of having a summit at all? And is that an appropriately respectful way to speak of international gatherings, if you are widely tipped to be going off to Brussels as the next European Commissioner?

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