The Sketch: No one had the courage to throw a shoe at Harriet

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The question dominating PMQs was simple. Would anyone throw their shoes at Harriet Harman? As it turned out, none of us had the courage of that Iraqi journalist. We have lost much in this country, but I dare say there is much yet to lose.

So, the formalities. Apparently it's old news but it made PMQs start with a bang. Florid Scot Brian Donohoe asked for assurance that the Government "would everything possible" to get petrol prices down. We're used to this bold claim. "We will undo the flap at the back of pants and bend over in Parliament Square to reveal a waving fistful of daffodils in order to help hard-working families fairly through the recession" ministers assure us – or assure me, at least, if that's what they mean by "everything possible".

Harriet Harman was standing in for the PM (he's saving parts of the world other PMs have failed to save). She said it was essential that energy companies passed on the cost savings, now that the price of oil had dropped, and if they failed to treat consumers "fairly" by lowering their prices, the Government would legislate to make them.

I looked around. Pens remained poised. No one was even fiddling with shoelaces. "Is she offering to legislate the price of petrol?" I asked. "Something like that," my knowledgeable colleague said. "Mike O'Brien said the same sort of thing yesterday." What? Are they serious? Or is it the same sort of thing as making corporation tax voluntary, or being able to defer VAT payments? "I don't know. They have been saying it quite a lot recently."

But if they are serious, where are the flying shoes? Have we really come to the point in Britain where ministers can say they are going to pass a law to set the price of petrol... and no one throws their shoes?

The Tories, I say again, are to blame. Harriet didn't cower up to the despatch box to be savaged, shredded and humiliated. Far from it – she was at her most annoyingly evangelical, preaching the virtue of debt, borrowing and governmental incontinence.

William Hague failed to make an impression on her monstrous confidence. The scale of this failure may cost them the election. Tories, incredibly, are on the back foot. They are upbraided as a do-nothing party. They plaintively say they are urging action and spending, but Harriet throws her shoes at them! They stand up bravely, but the insult is very damaging.

They say privately, "Just wait until unemployment begins to bite, that'll take the gloss off Gordon's resurgence." Fools! They spent five years saying the inevitable recession would do for Gordon, and it hasn't. And the reason is – they haven't got a) the argument or b) the weight to make way.

The essential thing is Ken. Ken Clarke. Please! Then we can keep our shoes on.