Questions from the back benches ranged from Steve McCabe's clever one: "How does he feel about prisoners voting for police commissioners?" To Ronnie (Red Ronnie, as his cardiologist calls him) Campbell's angry attack on Cameron for "picking on hard-working families". There was a big, full-spinnaker question too, from a new Labour woman about tuition fees. All had their merits.
On the other hand, the front bench questions were pretty dire again, I fear. EDM started off with a bit of consensual sincerity in order to suggest, "I am homme serieux, I am above politics." Yes, we've always fallen for that one since Michael Howard started doing it seven years ago.
Then he went on to the newspaper story of Cameron appointing a "personal" photographer at public expense. Not serieux, that. And not particularly comique either as it happened.
William Hague would have made it work, as much as it might be made to work but Eddy "The Izzard" Miliband's comic contribution was a reference to airbrushing and to imagine the camera chat in cabinet: "A bit more to the right, Nick."
You think you had to be there to appreciate it fully? You're probably right. The idea, perhaps, is to chip away at Cameron's trust rating – citing vanity and broken promises – and also perhaps to draw him down from his prime ministerial pedestal into an equal-terms conversation with his opposition. Good luck with that. So, what could he do? He might drop the parliamentary artifice (in itself a brilliant piece of artifice). He could use his interesting voice to say interesting things – as long as they were genuine, and came from one of his irreducible cores (© Tony Blair).
That would be a start if it weren't for one difficulty. If he presents himself as Prime Minister it looks like a comic fabrication because he isn't prime ministerial. So they both fall back on familiar ways. The exchanges are all five to 10 years old (answer the question, ask something serious, what are YOUR proposals? I ask the questions, etc., etc). It's make do and mend, a sign of the times. But we did see one shaft of originality. "The House is being unfair to the Hon Lady," the PM said, as Hazel Blears got drowned out. Unfair to Hazel Blears! Is your imagination big enough to visualise that? The Speaker had been unable to defend her against the noise.
That's interesting. There is a growing body of private ill-will towards the Speaker (not just wishful thinking on my part); we got a glimpse of it yesterday.
This column has predicted that losing control of the House will show how little natural authority the Speaker enjoys. He turned his microphone up yesterday and made everyone jump when he yelped for order. Later he yelped again: "Order!" and the back right-hand side of the chamber yelled back, "Order! Order!" It's an excellent form of insolence as you can't be identified. If you are your defence is: "I was just helping you, sir!" But do they have the schoolboy courage to persist in it? We'll see before Christmas.Reuse content