A mystery of Prime Minister’s Questions is why Iain Duncan Smith never sits with his Cabinet colleagues on the front bench, habitually standing instead in the little crowd of, mainly, latecomers just inside the chamber. Is it because, as the first Tory leader since Neville Chamberlain not to fight an election, he still feels like Ray Charles in the old 1950s hit “It Should Have Been Me”?
Either way, his chosen observation post allowed him to hobnob with, and even be treated to the occasional joke by the undisputed Man of the Moment, who was standing right beside him. Though he managed to maintain statue-like impassiveness when his name came up, apart from the faintest flicker of a nanosecond’s half-grin, Andrew Mitchell had every reason to be cheerful.
It presumably feels pretty good to hear the Prime Minister, who accepted your resignation with alacrity a year earlier, ringingly declare to a packed House of Commons: “My Right Honourable friend is owed an apology.” (If only – so far – by officers of the Police Federation, a union whose tactics in a fight make Bob Crow’s RMT sound about as aggressive as the English Tiddlywinks Association.) But Mitchell looks on his way back, if the smiles he later exchanged with his MP ally David Davis are anything to go by. If the writer Robert Harris is right to compare Mitchell with Dreyfus, then Davis is the former chief whip’s Anatole France.
Meanwhile, Labour’s Dennis Skinner showed that on form he can still silence a raucous Commons, this time by describing how a constituent, stripped of benefits by “the cruel, heartless monster” Atos – to which the Government has unwisely outsourced disability tests – had died of cancer after waiting for 11 months for an appeal, leaving him to live on £70 a week.
All this rather eclipsed exchanges between the Prime Minister and Ed Miliband, which largely reprised last week’s, over energy prices. Except that Cameron, castigating his opponents as “same old Labour”, dropped all references to them being “Marxist” – presumably because this wasn’t quite the week for it since, thanks to George Osborne, enterprises not unlinked to the Chinese Communist party are about to take over large chunks of our telecoms, computer gaming and nuclear power industries.
Miliband produced a new soundbite to counter Tory attempts to blame “green levies” for the rise in energy bills. Was Cameron not “faintly embarrassed that in five short years he has gone from ‘hug a husky’ to ‘gas a badger’?” At one bold stroke, this drew the battle lines for the next election. Miliband is consolidating his core support among badgers by sacrificing the floating cow vote.