The Sketch: Plenty of horse play, so why the long face, Prime Minister?
Cameron obeyed the golden PM rule: don't answer any lose-lose personal questions
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 13 February 2013
The horse-meat crisis may have seen many a supermarket clear its shelves. But it has proved a godsend to trope-hungry MPs crazed to show off their wit at Prime Minister’s Questions. First up was the DUP’s Nigel Dodds with a slightly ponderous effort: if Cameron was serious about tackling “misleading labelling” and “contamination of product,” what “possible future is there for his coalition with the Lib Dems?” Then came Labour’s Anas Sarwar. While the PM was “rightly shocked” that “many food products contain 100 per cent horse,” did he “share my concern that, if tested, many of his answers may contain 100 per cent bull?”
Cameron, it should be said, adopted the only available course. While acknowledging Sarwar’s “good line,” he responded to both questions as if they had really been about the food crisis, making it clear he was taking it Very Seriously. So seriously in fact that it was tempting to detect a subliminal rebuke to his somewhat behind-the-curve Environment Secretary Owen Paterson: “People are genuinely worried about what they are buying at the supermarket, and I really think we have got to get a grip of this….” Though he did add: “rather than make jokes about it – but I will think of another one by the end of the session.”
In the event, he didn’t. But he did obey another golden Prime Ministerial rule: don’t directly answer any lose-lose personal questions, like Labour MP Ben Bradshaw’s commendably short: “Is the Prime Minister still eating processed beef?” Cameron replied: “I am following very carefully what the Food Standards Agency says, and what the Food Standards Agency says is that there is nothing unsafe on our shelves.” Which. roughly translated, means: “Whether I ever eat the stuff is for me to know and for you to find out.”
The earlier weekly joust with Ed Miliband was over living standards, and whether they would go down on Cameron’s watch, as the Opposition leader said the Office of Budget Responsibility had made clear they would. The early rounds culminated with the Opposition leader reminding MPs that the Prime Minister had “attended the Tory party winter ball, auctioned off a portrait of himself for £100,000 and then declared, without a hint of irony, that the Tories were ‘no longer the party of privilege.’”
But then Cameron pulled ahead on points by brandishing an invitation to a big Labour gig today which, he declared with a flourish, said: “Ed Miliband is going to make a ‘major’ speech on the economy on Thursday. It won’t have any new policies in it.”
The only trick the Prime Minister missed was that he didn’t end with a punchline which, given the mood MPs were in, would certainly have brought the house down: “So where’s the beef?”
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