The Sketch: Cameron goes chasing after the wrong fox

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The Independent Online

It's hard to know who should be more affronted by the Prime Minister's darkly archaic reference to "red pests" yesterday: the country's foxes or the Labour MP who asked why Cameron wanted to relegalise the hunting of them with hounds.

Cameron, of course, is much too young to know that having cut his political teeth in the 1970s as a lieutenant to Frank Chapple, below, the electricians' union leader and scourge of all things communist, John Spellar could hardly be an unlikelier man to provoke the gibe. But that's what he did.

Repeating that he had "never broken the law" by hunting in defiance of the ban, the Prime Minister declared with a flourish: "The only little red pests I pursue these days are in this House."

But then Cameron had just had to endure, as he must have known since early morning he would, Ed Miliband publicly unwrapping with gusto a surprise late Christmas present: the emergence of a "restricted" Downing Street document listing reasons why the Coalition would be unwise to publish, at the same time as its mid-term review, an "audit" of its promises, the ones it had broken as well as those it had kept, as it might lead to "unfavourable copy".

Given that this week's Coalition relaunch is beginning by now to have an Apollo 13 feel to it, this was a heaven-sent opportunity for Miliband to try out his new non-shouty, laid-back, more-in-sorrow-than-anger style, as in the quasi-magisterial "I'm afraid the Prime Minister will have to do better than that", the patronising "Have another go; it's a simple question" and the downright exasperating: "It is early in the year so calm down. You've got difficult times ahead."

To be fair, Cameron did his best in adversity, later recovering enough to point out that while defending benefits for the poor and attacking tax breaks for the rich, "apparently the Labour party thinks it is right to give child benefit to millionaires". But it's a week the Coalition may be glad to see the back of. And there's still Nick Clegg's radio show on LBC to come.

As if to set this up, the ever-menacing LibDemophobe Philip Davies asked the Prime Minister whether he was closer "politically" to his Deputy Prime Minister or Lord Tebbit. A bit of a Hobson's choice this. And before saying blandly that he was naturally "closer to all Conservatives", Cameron observed: "I managed to get through Christmas without spending any time with either of them."

But for educational value, Tebbit is surely the correct answer. Indeed, as a one-time right-wing union official himself (in the British Airline Pilots Association) he could tell the Prime Minister a thing or two about Frank Chapple.