Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Class war thrives: Tories trade in stereotype – and poetry
Miliband’s gag – ‘He is the Prime Minister for Benson and hedge funds’ – was a work in progress
Donald Macintyre writes political sketches for The Independent, having been Jerusalem correspondent since 2004, covering Israel and the Occupied Territories, as well as travelling for the paper to Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Egypt.
Wednesday 17 July 2013
Class war alert! The Tory Graham Stuart (Glenalmond College and Cambridge) sought a promise from David Cameron that he would not enact a law defining “welfare benefits as a human right” while “Labour Members are in Blackpool this summer on their Unite beach towels”.
This referred to reports that Labour is considering whether basic social needs could be covered by human rights law – combining two Tory anathemas in one: welfare and legally underpinned human rights. But more telling was the snobbish choice of Blackpool, which Stuart clearly still believes is the resort favoured by his opponents, while Tories loll in Tuscany, Provence or the Dordogne.
Nevertheless he pushed the approved button with Unite. The union’s funding for Labour remains the Prime Minister’s default answer to any question on practically anything. Yesterday it was over whether Lynton Crosby – the prime ministerial campaign adviser who as Miliband put it, “also happens to work for big tobacco in the shape of Philip Morris” – and Cameron had ever talked about the now-vetoed policy of plain cigarette packaging.
True, Miliband’s “He is the Prime Minister for Benson and hedge fund” gag was a bit of a work in progress. But the PM’s carefully evasive reply that “he has never lobbied me on anything” allowed the Labour leader to slide easily into a reminder that the Tory Dr Sarah Wollaston had called the vetoing a “a day of shame for this government”.
Cameron should worry about Dr Wollaston. Unlike many Tory backbenchers, she has electoral appeal and makes sense. As was evident when she pleaded to Cameron to “reprieve” minimum alcohol pricing.
Meanwhile Tory Sir Peter Tapsell asked about the single currency – “a major cause of the despair now sweeping across southern Europe, threatening the democracy of Portugal, Spain and Greece”. Sir Peter is the only MP who can call to mind the late Roman empire and vast caravans of mule-driving, garment-rending tribespeople in retreat through blizzards across the Pyrenees ahead of the advancing Visigoths. Cameron said it was important “we respect countries that are in the single currency.” Fair enough as far as it went. But, by Sir Peter’s exacting standards, how prosaic.
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