David Cameron did something quite startling in the House of Commons today – he stopped getting the hump.
The man who provided guaranteed entertainment for all who turned up for his regular appearance at Prime Ministers Questions has apparently cancelled his subscription to heart attack weekly.
There were signs of the new improved PM last week but they were lost in the attention lavished on the insults provided by the Chancellor in his Autumn Statement. So it was with the usual anticipation that MPs gathered in the Commons for the standard Ed Miliband onslaught on DC which has produced so much jollity in recent months.
All appeared to be normal as the Labour leader prepared for his pre-lunch munch on the PM’s increasingly ample figure and even the latest fall in unemployment served only to delay hostilities for less than a minute as he made polite reference to them.
Pleasantries out of the way, Ed turned quickly to insults as he reminded the Prime Minister how Chancellor George (absent – presumably with leave) had seemingly described all benefit claimants as shirkers last week as he happily announced a one per cent ceiling on annual increases.
And even as Ed spoke normal service was re-enforced by the wildly gesticulating activity at his side of Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls who was judged by many to be missing in action during last week’s economic debate.
Mr Balls, who blamed his propensity to stammer for saying the economy was improving rather than the opposite had been slightly shame-faced after his performance. But, if proof were needed that you cannot keep a good sledger (apparently a cricketing expression for unnerving your opponents) down then Ed provided it with a running commentary of less than complimentary asides the moment the Prime Minister rose to reply.
Ed B’s return to form immediately cheered up MPs who had feared kind words about jobs might rob them of their weekly opportunity to wail like banshees and hurl insults across the Chamber.
In the recent past the intervention of Mr Balls, described after one such incident as “the most annoying man in British politics” by the PM, was a guarantee that the paramedics would be put on standby and Mrs C would make plans to visit a friend.
But, to the surprise of all, this time the PM bounced back with the retort that like all bullies – and Ed B does have much previous in this area – it was learned last week that he can dish it out but he can’t take it.
Momentarily thrown by this pot/kettle response from the Flashman of Downing Street Ed Miliband recovered with a crack about the restaurant-trashing behaviour of the Bullingdon Club boys but Dave just shrugged it off. Cheers and jeers all round.
As Dave returned un-marked to his corner nowhere in sight was the man who may be credited with this about-turn in behaviour which could cost Labour and its leader dear in the coming months.
The Conservative Party (i.e. Dave and George) have recently employed Australian Lynton Crosby as their main man for the General Election, a mere two and a half years away. Mr Crosby attracts the same sort of appreciation both inside and outside the Tory Party that Alistair Campbell did for Labour with both men drawing from the same book of phrases you would not want your mother or indeed anyone’s else’s to hear on a regular basis.
He made his reputation getting right wing recidivist John Howard elected and re-elected four times as Australian PM and did the same for Boris Johnson first time around. Now, firmly ensconced in party headquarters, where the count-down clock to the next election is already on the wall, he is said to be determined that Dave should avoid being wound up by Ed M not to mention the B variety.
Indeed, earlier this week Dave put down a marker that he may not be available for the TV head to head debates this time round bearing in mind it will be fresh-faced Ed M and not the dour Gordon B up against him.
It’s also believed that Crosby’s finger-prints could be on George’s attempts last week to set Labour up for fall over benefits by challenging them to oppose the one per cent ceiling in the face of general public support. Ed M made it clear today that Labour now accepts the challenge and the gamble having established that 60% of claimants are actually in work and will therefore suffer.
Was it also Lynton, desperately conscious of the fall-off in the Tory Party’s female vote who ensured that three of the women in Dave’s Cabinet could be seen clustered by him in every TV shot at PMQs. If so, he should move International Development Secretary Justine Greening, demoted from Transport in the last re-shuffle, for whom the expression “a face like a slapped **** ” could have been invented.
NB: Note to Lynton. Your man is losing his hair at the back. You read it here first!