This week’s panel of Sam Vogts, Sam Oakley and Fred Azis-Laranjo look at a raucous edition of PMQs…
Sam Oakley (@samoakley91)
Well that was rowdy, wasn’t it? Gone is Ed Miliband’s ‘quiet man turning up the volume routine’ to be replaced once more with cheerleader-in-chief, Michael Dugher leading the loyal Labour troops in one of the more raucous sessions of PMQs this Parliament.
The Speaker, embroiled in his own personal tribulations this week, had to intervene on a number of occasions and very nearly passed out when berating Michael Gove’s insolence, but it was notable that it was Cameron looking to him for help. We have often seen Ed Miliband desperately struggle to make his, frankly rather weak, arguments about the economy or cost-of-living against a chorus of Tory barracking, and almost equally as often we have seen the Speaker interrupt the PM when reaching his rhetorical peak. Yet this week it was different. The Labour Party was more energised than ever and the Prime Minister had to plead with The Speaker to let him make his point.
But what point was that? His plea came in the middle of what must have been one of the longest answers in Parliamentary history. The genius decision by Labour to load their front bench with women put the Prime Minister on the back foot as soon as the session began. When Cameron saw how the Labour front bench was lining up he must have known what was coming. He looked to his left and right and saw nothing but greying, middle-class white men. His heart must have sunk. The question was inevitable, but the PM was a case study in obfuscation. Why talk about the gender gap when you can talk about flood policy instead?
A picture in this case certainly did speak a thousand words and will dominate the papers tomorrow – and perhaps the political agenda for the time being. Cameron and the Tories are really struggling with their ‘women’.
Miliband is proving himself adept at using PMQs to shift the debate but he does himself an injustice when he comes back with childish jibes about the Bullingdon and Eton. He’s still thoroughly unconvincing as an orator and a debater – but goodness his team are good.
Sam Vogts (@SamVogts)
Just as they did to every Londoner’s Wednesday morning, the tube strikes gave this week’s PMQs a bumpy start and then, again echoing the experience of many in this morning’s traffic chaos, a screeching halt, as Ed Miliband completely ignored Cameron’s request to condemn the industrial action, pivoting instead to a change of topic that was just a little too awkwardly obvious.
And his topic choice didn’t get him very far either. Miliband’s attempt to shine a spotlight on a supposed gap in the Tories’ flood action was smoothly rebutted by impressive figures from Cameron – who even took the opportunity to pat his party on the back for their good care of the UK economy (a fantastic example of bringing the debate back to his key messages, of which I’m sure his media trainer will be incredibly proud). In fact, it was during Cameron’s response that the House experienced it’s only few seconds of silence.
But Ed wasn’t finished just yet. Aware that his flood nagging was getting him nowhere, he pivoted again – this time to the lack of female representation in the Conservative Party – and did so with the support of his almost all-female front bench (another move that was just a bit too obvious). Miliband had a point though, but he would have done well to relate it back to the rest of the country, instead of continuing to throw insults at the Tories – insults which were once again picked apart by David and his nifty numbers.
Fred Azis-Laranjo (@fredazislaranjo)
Another week, another ridiculously rowdy PMQs. John Bercow was called into action more than usual, with David Cameron unusually requesting his intervention on two occasions. For Cameron to encourage Bercow to dish out his schoolmaster put-downs – required to silence the raucous class that is the current Commons chamber – strikes a new low in the conduct of both sides of the House. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy The Speaker telling Gove to pipe down, or berating a fellow member for behaving like an ‘incorrigible delinquent’, but when MPs come across as more excitable (and juvenile) than school-kids on the last day of term, Mr Bercow might need to bring back the cane to restore some order.
Miliband pressed on the ongoing floods and then women’s equality. Cameron was strong in his flood defences (a far cry from the beleaguered Owen Patterson), and Miliband was handed a gift when not a single women was sitting on the Conservative frontbench. This was supported by alarming statistics that the gender pay-gap is widening for the first time in five years. No doubt some commentators will pick up on Miliband’s refusal to condemn the tube strike, which in reality is as about as likely as George Osborne coming out in favour of the proposed 50p tax rate.
If Ed Miliband can keep up this improved level of performance, it may be the start of some interesting PMQs – as long as teacher Bercow can keep the unruly kids in check.