Wednesday, 2 June 2010

PMQs - Sober and serious but can it last?

Better late than never, David Cameron today delivered on one of his 2005 promise to end “Punch and Judy” politics.

True, he spent the best part of five years beating Labour’s two Prime Ministers over the head with a stick. Again. And again.

But shortly after 3pm, a more sombre, serious and altogether more sensible mood prevailed in the Commons for the first Prime Minister’s Questions since the election. None of the usual farmyard braying from the Class of 2010.

It was difficult to imagine anything else, after Mr Cameron’s first act was to pay tribute to troops killed in Afghanistan and then relaying to MPs details of the shootings in Cumbria.

At the time of speaking, at least five people had been killed by a gunman, Mr Cameron said calmly. A number of MPs were visibly shaken. “God,” exclaimed one Labour frontbencher, biting her lip. The death toll has since risen to at least a dozen.

Harriet Harman, holding the fort while various Milibands and Eds battle it out to be leader, began with the equally sobering subjects of Israel and rape convictions.

But she came unstuck when criticising Tory plans to recognise marriage in the tax system. Mr Cameron noted that if Christmas parties and parking a bicycle at work were given special treatment by HMRC, why not those who get hitched?

Labour had made an “enormous recognition of marriage” through changes to inheritance tax, transferring allowances from husband to wife.

If it’s OK for the rich, why not the poor, he asked to Tory cheers. A solid hit, sending Ms Harman’s final ball to the boundaries.

Liberal Democrat deputy PM Nick Clegg nodded slightly, reduced from spare part to playing no part at all in this weekly ritual.

The overall tone was more grown-up. What was being said seemed to matter. “I am going to give accurate answers rather than making them up on the spot.” Hmm, we’ll see.

For the new MPs it will have been an anti-climax. Tiverton and Honiton Tory new boy Neil Parish stood on his tippy toes to peer over taller colleagues, from behind the Speaker’s chair. At the opposite end Sheryll Murray (Con, South East Cornwall) had heavy eyelids.

Not the bear pit they had seen on the TV. Give it time though, give it time.

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