The Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister squared up to each other in the most poised and charming way. They were like rival New York hostesses letting off vicious kisses in each other's airspace. Thank you for the flowers, David Cameron said. No, no, "Thank you for... your thanks," Tony Blair replied. It's a feminine form of combat particularly favoured by middle-aged women: "Oh, look at you! You look so pretty tonight!" The other feels the sting of it and replies, "Not compared with you, you look ravishing!"
But Blair has developed an answer to Tory support for his education reforms. These, in an un-Labour way, are meant to introduce a degree of freedom and self-determination into our school system. Tory support has been entirely toxic, hitherto. But now, when a Tory says: "I agree with the Prime Minister!" the Prime Minister retorts: "That's right, he agrees with us."
Yes, he now says, quite powerfully: "The Tories have accepted our position on selection. I look forward to seeing them in the lobbies." This is very close work. Cameron needs to develop his argument again, to revitalise the Toxic Tory strategy. He needs an answer beyond: "I think in point of fact you'll find it is you over there who agree with us over here, rather than the other way round."
In the Commons, Blair can almost force a draw on who agrees with whom. The exchanges sound like: "So we'll be voting on your side!" "Good then." "Yes, that's good." "See you in the lobbies then!" "No, no, it is I who will see you in the lobbies!"
To undermine the Prime Minister further, Cameron now needs to explain what these reforms will lead to under a Tory government. He must do this in such a positive, cheerful and supportive way that the Labour rebels explode with indignation. He must tease the old loyalists in his deft, public school way (the flick on the nose is more damaging than the body blow). And along the way, he could give us an idea of what Tory World looks like. (There are many of us who'd like to know.)
And as the best advice often comes from the other side, he needs to explicate fully David Taylor's final point, made from high up there in the Government back benches where the malcontents look down, vulturously. Mr Taylor asked the Prime Minister to explain why there was such deep unease on his side of the House about these education reforms, and such pleasure on the other. "It is politics scripted by Lewis Carroll," he said, showing a firm grasp of current political reality.Reuse content