Rain dancers don't dance to make it rain but to become better dancers. Graham Allen's constitutional dancers appeared for the first time yesterday, congratulating themselves on the speed at which they'd got the disco going.
They went onto the floor with relish, each with their individual style, all middle-aged, some flamboyant. Eleanor Laing took 20 minutes to ask a five-word question. One fellow objected that returning officers hadn't been consulted on the impact of a multi-choice ballot paper on partially sighted voters. Graham Allen suggested a referendum on the Additional Vote system. Tristram Hunt wanted more poetry in the constitutional debate. There's more than enough poetry in his name; if rhyming slang counts as poetry.
Watching the multiple styles you wondered how anything ever got done. Usually, of course, it doesn't.
Nick Clegg had gone to the committee to answer questions on his proposals to change the way we are governed. A referendum on the voting system, recall of MPs by their electorates, fixed terms, lobbying restrictions, party funding... That's a lot of reform if MPs are going to consider detail at the level of those partially sighted voters and their multiple-choice ballot papers.
Will these waltzing, twisting, foxtrotting Morris dancers dance an elected House of Lords into being? Is the Pope Polish?
They hint at their desire for a written constitution. They'd take a decade to write a constitution for a golf club.
On the upside, Nick Clegg's appearance helped maintain the contrast from the old regime. "Correct me if I'm wrong," he said to one. And "Can I test your proposition," to another. There wasn't a minister in the previous government who would have felt, thought, said such a thing. And to prevent a clever Tristram disquisition on the limited effects of the 1832 Reform Bill, Clegg countered with "the domino effect of the 1832 Bill – some of the effects of which we're still dealing with".
Only too true: the current multinational crisis isn't a crisis of capitalism but a crisis of democracy. Everyone seems to want more democracy but that's what's got us into this mess. Over the last 100 years, the public has realised (as the old Scots economist had it) that it can vote itself largesse from the public purse.
Which was the lively argument across the way in the Treasury select committee. Chair Andrew Tyrie opened fire, asking the Chancellor why he called it a "progressive" Budget with the bottom 10 per cent bearing more of the pain than the seven deciles above them.
The real answer is that of the old Scots economist, but Osborne's fancy footwork had him saying the bottom 10 per cent had a lot of students among them – who earnt little but spent a lot.
The Chancellor's manner has changed from that prefect in If to something perhaps high table benign. At any rate, he didn't rise to Chuka Umunna's jibe: "Have you ever been on jobseeker's allowance, Chancellor?" And while he didn't admit to increasing the risk of a double-dip recession, he could certainly understand the question.
At least in our hell-bound handcart our drivers have nice manners. It makes the ride so much more pleasant.Reuse content