PMQs: More sport than seriousness in bad-tempered debate over privatisation

Miliband knew the subject of the Royal Mail was tricky territory

Share

Barely worth it this week. I enjoyed it well enough: as entertainment it was lively, but you cannot help yearning for a bit of seriousness. The back-and-forth over the sale of the Royal Mail was rude and bad-tempered. Ed Miliband and David Cameron both seemed genuinely cross about it, and the whole thing was amazingly childish. “Not so much the Wolf of Wall Street but the Dunce of Downing Street,” said Miliband. Only I heard it as “Ducks”, which would have been better, in a bafflingly inexplicable way. “Dunce” is a silly word if you are throwing insults around in the second decade of the 21st century.

“Muppets,” which is what the Prime Minister called Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, is much better. An almost affectionate post-modern reference to a children’s TV programme.

After that, though, Miliband asked a serious question. What happened to the “gentleman’s agreement” with City institutions to hold their shares for the long term? Never mind that it didn’t make any sense: what would have been the point of their holding the shares for years and years? Everyone noticed that the Prime Minister didn’t answer it. This is not necessarily a problem. Good parliamentarians can keep the House on their side if they avoid a question, provided that they are witty or clever about it. Cameron wasn’t. He said: “We know why he is asking the question: because he is paid to by the trade unions.”

This was rude and childish, and worst of all, no one believes it. Everyone knows why Miliband asked the question: he asked it because he doesn’t like capitalism. He thinks privatisation is a scam; that “the City” is the enemy; and that markets are bad. That should be enough seriousness for one day. It was, indeed, the underlying seriousness of the session. Cameron got to the point later, accusing Miliband of being “anti-market, anti-competition, anti-business”.

But the Prime Minister knew it was a tricky argument for him: people are sentimental about post offices and the sale does seem to have been poorly designed. There should have been a way of testing the market before the full flotation.

And Miliband knew it was tricky for him, which was why, question unanswered, he observed: “He’s gone as red as a post box.” Now that really was a good childish insult, and, as if this were a piece of music, it set up the best put-down of the session. Cameron picked up on Miliband’s closing flourish, describing the privatisation as “ a sale nobody wanted”.

The Prime Minister said: “It was a sale nobody wanted? It was in his manifesto!” Wild cheers all round, as Miliband looked at Ed Balls beside him and said he didn’t think it was in the manifesto - and writing the manifesto was his job in 2010 until Peter Mandelson rewrote it.

It wasn’t in the manifesto, although the Labour whips failed to get another MP to point this out in a question, and it was left to Jonathan Ashworth, a deputy chair of the party, to raise it in a spurious point of order after Questions were over.

So, one of those collapsing-soufflé triumphs, that lasted - in these days of instant Twitter rebuttal - only a minute or two. Although, if you want a bit of seriousness, Cameron’s punch line was true in the sense that the Labour government had tried to sell the Royal Mail but couldn’t find a buyer.

Ed Balls’s heckling continued after the session was over. As the Prime Minister made his way out of the Chamber, Balls followed him on the other side, telling him he had been so rude and nasty that his own side were embarrassed and looking at the floor.

It wasn’t true, but it should have been.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate Pricing Analyst - 6 months / 1 year analytical experience

£20000 - £25000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Project Manager (retail, upgrades, rollouts)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project...

Hourly Paid Teachers

£20 - £25 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education are curren...

Technical Project Manager - Software and Infrastructure - Government Experience

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Central Lon...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A homeless person sleeps in the streets  

This is why I am sleeping rough outside the party conferences

Max J Freeman
Strikes were carried out by manned air force and navy aircraft (File photo)  

Syria air strikes: President Assad now has the enemy he always wanted – Islamist terrorism

Kim Sengupta
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits