We’ve been stuck since 1892 with that now-exhausted metaphor:
Colonel Ross still wore an expression which showed the poor opinion which he had formed of my companion’s ability, but I saw by the Inspector’s face that his attention had been keenly aroused.
“You consider that to be important?” he asked.
“Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
‘To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.
It was the croc that didn’t snap, the firework that failed to fly, the jeroboam that refused to go pop. Last week, David Cameron’s speech on Europe was supposed to heal a two-decade rift within the Tory family and to set Britain on a bold new course in our relationship with the continent. A week later and the great In-Out gamble didn’t rate a mention at PMQs. Not a peep. Not a syllable. Not a whisper. Ed Miliband didn’t bring it up either.
Once past the ritual exchange of abuse (or rather Cameron’s abuse when confronted by Miliband’s profession of reason), the main meat of PMQs:
- included two excellent questions (one historical, one equine)
- concluded with a poor ad-hominem response by Cameron to Gorgeous George Galloway’s ad-rem on double standards of foreign policy.
Let’s deal with the last of those first, here as Lloyd Evans saw it:
The session ended with a blood-soaked question from George Galloway. Referring to the latest troop-surge in Mali, he invited the PM to ‘adumbrate the differences between the throat-slitting jihadists’ of north Africa and ‘the equally bloodthirsty jihadist’ in Syria. Easy to answer convincingly but Cameron descended to mere abuse. ‘Wherever there is a brutal Arab dictator in the world, he will have the support of the right honourable gentleman.’
A pity he served up a slur rather than an argument against Galloway who, if nothing else, is a formidable debater.
When the Speccie disses Cameron, as it does on a regular basis, there’s usually a grain of good sense involved somewhere. Though, but naturally, not on the visceral issues of Europe or renewables.
Galloway’s barb went home, and will fester. Because it came from Galloway, Cameron may endure it — at least until the Hercules descends at RAF Brize Norton and more body-bags from North or West Africa are delivered to Cameron’s back-door. Another, perhaps more dangerous wound was delivered from over Cameron’s shoulder.
Pontifical Sir Peter
Simon Hoggart, the wittiest of the lobby reporters and sketch-writers, has a regular vamp about Sir Peter Tapsell. Here, for example, from September 2011:
Does Sir Peter Tapsell actually exist? I ask the question following his own question – nay, speech – on Wednesday, which was magnificent. It could have been a pastiche of the perfect Tapsell address. I imagined his words being carved into tablets of polished black basalt, mounted in the British Museum, etched deep so that even the partially sighted can feel their way to his eternal wisdom.
Possibly Sir Peter is a mass thought form, created by Tory MPs, for whom he recalls their party as it used to be, and Labour MPs, who wish that it still was. Certainly it is true that the whole House looks forward keenly, yearningly, to his every word.
When the Father of the House arose in the middle of prime minister’s questions, a great throb of excitement ran along all benches, rather like the moment in a Victorian seance when the eerie manifestation of a dead Red Indian appeared above the fireplace. This moment of glee was followed, as it always, is by a hushed and expectant silence.
Malcolm will be disappointed if tomorrow’s Guardian fails to include mention of lapidary inscription, or — at the very least — quills and vellum. Fortunately for the mirth and instruction of the nation, as Father of the House (the longest serving Member) Sir Peter has a proprietary right to be called at question time. So to today:
Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): As my right hon. Friend sets forth on his pacific mission to Algeria, will he, with his great historical knowledge, bear in mind that when Louis Philippe sent his eldest son to Algeria in the 1840s on a similar venture, it took a century, massive casualties, the overthrow of the Third Republic and the genius of General de Gaulle to get the French army back out of the north African desert?
Hon. Members: Answer!
Mr Speaker: Order. We want to hear the Prime Minister’s answer to this question.
The Prime Minister: I can reassure my right hon. Friend that I am planning only to visit Algiers. I am sure he put down an urgent question at the time of the events to which he referred, and got a response.
Two things don’t come out in that bare Hansard transcript:
- Only those backbench and the Speaker’s interruptions saved Cameron, gave him recovery time.
- This was the second, in a row, of very effective questions. Cameron hadn’t done very well on the previous one, either:
Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): On the subject of food safety, can the Prime Minister confirm that traces of stalking horse have been found in the Conservative party food chain?
The Prime Minister: Somewhere in my briefing, I had some very complicated information about the danger of particular drugs for horses entering the food chain, and I have to say the hon. Gentleman threw me completely with that ingenious pivot. The Conservative party has always stood for people who want to work hard and get on, and I am glad that all of my — all those behind me take that very seriously indeed.