Chris Bryant: The Tories' clustershambles is all very entertaining, but Cameron needs to get a grip



Political misfortunes rarely come in isolation. If anything, they prefer to breed. That's certainly how it feels watching the Coalition Government fall so spectacularly into its slough of despond. It's not even as if anybody else tripped them up. Every element of the present malaise has been a home-grown Jack and Jill-style tumble. The NHS Bill, the petrol panic, the botched Budget, Theresa's May Day (in April). These were all unforced errors.

There was no campaign to put VAT on hot pasties, or cut the VAT on ski lifts, or leave the VAT on caviar at nil. Nor was there a public clamour to cap tax relief on charitable giving, however much lurking resentment there is that millionaires don't pay their fair share of tax. Nor did anybody demand that Abu Qatada be arrested on Tuesday rather than Wednesday, however much we want him out of our hair – and our country.

But in the political equivalent of the 100-yard dash, Lansley, Maude, Osborne and May forgot to lace their plimsolls up. They forgot to do the basics, check the facts, work out the anomalies, consult the book of unintended consequences – and came a cropper. So steady has been the stream of pratfalls that it has started to look synchronised.

But it's also at these sorts of times that you get the real measure of a leader. Some leaders find immense extra physical and emotional resources in a crisis. They become more attentive to detail.

But with Cameron, things seem to be going in the opposite direction. If anything, he has now become openly contemptuous of detail. Witness his ludicrous claim that the 50p rate of tax had not raised any money at all. And there was one very revealing moment in Prime Minister's Questions this week. The beady-eyed Tory MP Douglas Carswell asked a mildly humorous question about whether Yes, Prime Minister was true to life and Cameron, looking angry, shot back a response as tart as a mouthful of limes: "I think the Hon Gentleman does need a sense of humour." Of itself, of course, one hoity-toity gibe does not a Shakespearean downfall make, but unless he gets a grip, the blunders will start breeding and he will have a right old clustershambles on his hands. Then Cameron's days will be numbered – and Theresa won't be doing the counting.

By the grace of Gorgeous George

George Galloway took his seat on Monday. As required, he had to declare his allegiance to the Queen and her lawful successors, which, as in court, he could do either by swearing on the Bible or the Koran or by affirming. Despite his religious views, including his assertion in the West Bradford by-election that he was elected "by the grace of God", he decided to leave God out of it. To be honest, I have no idea why most MPs still swear their allegiance. After all, Jesus condemned the swearing of oaths in the Sermon on the Mount with his injunction that "Let your yes be a yes and your no a no", and anyway many MPs are at best agnostic. Besides, I've never been convinced that just because someone swears something on the Bible it provides any greater surety. A liar is a liar.

Another break from PMQs

I know MPs aren't exactly "on holiday" when Parliament isn't sitting as there is always constituency work to be done, but ministers are relieved when they don't have to face the Commons. Which is why it is so disturbing that Parliament looks set to get yet another break on top of Easter and the May Day and Jubilee bank holidays. This is because the Government has run out of business and is intending to prorogue Parliament early, possibly on 1 May, giving the PM two more PMQ-free weeks.

It would mean we would sit for just 14 days out of 75. Harrumph.

Lords reform is long overdue

I gather Tories are all wound up about Lords reform. One, Andrew Rosindell, has said he won't vote for anything that would remove Margaret Thatcher from Parliament. Leaving aside the fact that he's just given me yet another reason to vote for reform, I'm amazed that Tories are backing themselves into the most ludicrous position of all. The House of Lords, that great symbol of patronage, cronyism and religious bigotry, is now completely illogical and unsustainable. It has already grown to be the largest political assembly in the world. Its membership is based on the greasing of palms and the favouritism either of this generation (the life peers), or another era (the hereditary peers) and its much-vaunted "expertise" is often out of date or extremely partial. Some of my best friends are peers, but it really is time for change.

Fishy business of health and safety

There are few phrases that irritate me more than "health and safety gone mad", but I was tearing my hair out yesterday because Welsh Water, which owns a beautiful reservoir above Maerdy at the top end of the Rhondda Fach, has decided that the road up to the reservoir is too dangerous and therefore, for health and safety reasons, the Maerdy Fishing Club can no longer use the reservoir. Since the road is in exactly the same condition as it has always been and there have been no accidents, it is clear that all that has changed is the mindset of the health and safety commissars in the company. Could we persuade the two men from Welsh Water to change their mind? No, of course not. They just repeated the same old flimsy line. Since the place would be safer with the fishing club presence, I'm determined to change the company's mind. So if anyone fancies joining my protest, which I'm terming a fish-in called Rhondda – get in touch.


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