Donald Macintyre's Sketch: The curious incident of the peaceful PMQs

 

“Is there any point to which you wish to draw my attention?” Inspector Gregory might have asked Sherlock Holmes.

“The curious incident of the dog-fight between the party leaders at Prime Minister’s Questions,” he may have replied.

“But there was no dog-fight at Prime Minister’s Questions.”

“That was the curious incident.”

And so, with apologies to Conan Doyle, it was. The first Prime Minister’s Questions of 2014 was almost grown up! Ed Miliband set the new tone by asking Cameron for an update on, wait for it, the floods – and the “number of people affected and on what action is being taken now to ensure areas that could be affected by further flooding have all the necessary support.”

The bald text hardly conveys the daring, heterodox originality of his approach. This was a question actually requiring a factual answer. It didn’t impute blame. In short, it broke all the rules.

True, Miliband next mentioned mildly that “some people” had felt the energy companies’ response had been too slow – but only to ask “what steps” can be taken to speed it up in future. And the normally chuntering, gesticulating Ed Balls sat still as a statue beside him. (There is as yet no known statue of Balls, but it’s clear that he can pose for a sculptor if he chooses.) Later, Miliband asked, almost as unrancourously, about the social evil of fixed odds betting machines.

The result was an orgy of mutual politeness.

Startled as Cameron must have been, he rose largely to the occasion, saying that Miliband had been “absolutely right” that there were lessons from the “negatives” during the flooding. And he “absolutely” shared the Labour leader’s concern about betting machines. Miliband meanwhile confessed that the limits imposed by Labour’s 2005 Act “did not go nearly far enough.” At this rate both party leaders were heading for the kind of public self-criticism sessions favoured by local branches of the Chinese Communist Party under Mao.

The atmosphere was no doubt calmed  by cross party mourning after the sudden death of the popular Labour MP Paul Goggins. But Miliband had taken a calculated gamble – perhaps with an eye to the election campaign — that it’s possible to disagree without being disagreeable. (How long this will last remains to be seen.)

The session ended with Labour’s Ian Davidson chivalrously – if bluntly – defending Cameron against the common enemy: Scottish nationalism. Cameron was entirely right to resist SNP calls to debate with its leader, as “the last person Scots who support the ‘No’ campaign want to have as their representative is a Tory toff from the Home Counties.” Cameron joined the laughter, even when Davidson added a reference to the PM’s “fine haircut” – the architect of which, Lino Carbosiero, has just been rewarded with an MBE.

Ah, that haircut. Oddly, one MP with whom Cameron has a passing tonsorial resemblance is Labour’s Dennis Skinner. Unsurprisingly the significantly older Skinner’s hair is grey. He certainly doesn’t pay his barber £90 a cut. And counter-intuitively his parting is on the right while Carbosiero famously transferred Cameron’s parting to the left in 2007. But both have the same orderly, swept back look. And it’s difficult to guess which of the two will be more appalled by the comparison.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea