Donald Macintyre's Sketch: The last PMQs before Christmas. Thank goodness it comes round only once a year
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 18 December 2013
Ah, the last Prime Minister’s Questions of the year. MPs always find it impossible not to overdo the festive references, as though they had just been given uniquely privileged inside information that Christmas was only a week away. There is the frankly obsequious kind, such as Therese Coffey’s: “Thank you for calling me, Mr Speaker, and a merry Christmas to you and your family. The people of Suffolk have enjoyed a cracker of a Christmas present with the excellent news on the A14 [not becoming a toll road]...” Then there is the beseeching, as in her fellow Tory Stewart Jackson’s: “Will the Prime Minister give an early Christmas present to Peterborough people by giving his personal support to our bid for a university technical college.”
And there is the abusive-supposedly-hilarious, deployed in these exchanges between David Cameron and Ed Miliband: “Ah, we have a new hand gesture from the shadow Chancellor! [Ed Balls pointing downwards to denote falling living standards.] I would have thought that after today’s briefing in the papers the hand gesture for the Shadow Chancellor should be bye-bye.” (Prime Ministerial hand in flirtatious farewell wave with all his fingers oscillating in the manner of a 1930s film star, Greta Garbo perhaps or Tallulah Bankhead.) This referred to anonymously sourced Shadow Cabinet reports that Balls is on the political equivalent of probation, but was anyway only a warm-up for the punchline: “You don’t need it to be Christmas to know when you’re sitting next to a turkey.”
Followed by Miliband, fighting to maintain the seasonal vibe: “I tell you what... that was a turkey of an answer... Childcare costs have gone up £300 in the past year... There is one group the Prime Minister has helped out with the cost of living this year: those on his Christmas card list.” As music hall comedians used to say on a bad night: “Don’t laugh too loud. It’s an old building!”
Fortunately for those of us tempted to run out shouting, like Scrooge, that anyone spouting this stuff “should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart”, there were some distinctly non-festive moments. Labour’s John McDonnell accused Cameron of having “lied to my constituents” by promising “no ifs, no buts, no third runway” at Heathrow. This was not only, as the PM said, “completely inappropriate” parliamentary language, but also inaccurate. After all there isn’t a third runway, is there? Just a report which would allow Cameron to perform a gigantic U-turn and build one after the election.
Another yule-free question from Tory John Whittingdale urged Cameron, reasonably enough, to salute “the courage of the hundreds of thousands of people” who have been protesting in Ukraine, and to “hold out the prospect of closer links with Europe in the longer term... which is what the people of Ukraine want”.
In stark contrast to many of his backbench colleagues who want nothing of the kind, as he might have added. But for some reason didn’t.
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