Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Re-Branding of PMQs came too late for Commons visitor
Sketch: Witnessing the horrifying spectacle in the gallery was Birgitte Hjort Sorensen from Borgen
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. As Political Editor and then Chief Political Commentator, he previously covered the John Major and early Tony Blair era. He has written for the Daily Express, Sunday Times, Times and Sunday Telegraph, and Sunday Correspondent. He is the author of Mandelson and the Making of New Labour (2000).
Wednesday 06 November 2013
Since Russell Brand briefly sat in on the Commons months before launching his diatribe on politics, you dread to think what effect today will have on the latest visiting celebrity.
As Birgitte Hjort Sorensen plays Katrine in Borgen, which depicts politicians as grown-ups, let’s hope she was prepared for the horrifying spectacle – the steadily worsening PMQs. “We have a Prime Minister too clueless to know the facts about the NHS… There is only one person responsible for the A&E crisis, and that is him.” (Ed on Dave; cue Labour MPs hysterically baying.) “The leader of the Labour Party is behaving [towards the unions] like the mayor of a Sicilian town towards the Mafia: ‘They put me in and I don’t want them to take me out.’” (Dave on Ed; cue Tory MPs etc…)
Cameron even opened a second front. The Speaker, John Bercow, had chastised him for failing to answer a question from Labour’s John Cryer. So in a later answer he pointedly told the Speaker: “I am keen to answer the question, and it is a very direct answer.” It may not read that way, but this was a rebuke. And the Tory backbenchers loved it.
Raising the tone, Tory ultra-grandee Sir Peter Tapsell asked Cameron “whether the intelligence services of some countries may be dangerously out of political control” and whether the PM was “fully informed” on “sensitive external initiatives taken by our services”.
So venerable is Sir Peter that this irresistibly recalled the Great Game and Sir Richard Hannay in Buchan’s Greenmantle, in which Sir Walter Bullivant always ensured the government knew all. An era long before metadata and secret British embassy listening posts.
Asked by the SNP’s Angus Robertson about shipbuilding on Clydeside and Portsmouth – where it will end – Cameron said: “If there was an independent Scotland we would not have any warships at all.” This was a curious pronoun. Did he mean “he” instead of we, as in “Scotland won’t have a Navy”? Or was he admitting that a truncated UK would lose its aircraft carriers and Scotia will rule the waves at last?
When Philip Hammond made his shipbuilding statement it all calmed down, becoming quite adult. The Defence Secretary even praised the unions for being “constructively engaged” in the industry. Sadly Ms Sorensen had left by then.
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