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Monday 30th April 2012 | 18:18
It's a sunny day, and there's an uncomplicated visit to Bletchley Park in the diary. After that, it's the reassuring comfort – Chequers perhaps? – that a few days away from Westminster brings. What's not to like about being prime minister on a quiet Monday?
Short answer: John Bercow. The Speaker had summoned the PM to face an urgent question from a Labour Party determined to take a further bite out of Jeremy Hunt's credibility. At Bercow's behest, David Cameron had no choice but to shelve his plans and race back to the Commons. For the PM this was both annoying and embarrassing – with a few un-Parliamentary expletives thrown in too.
Waiting for him eagerly in the chamber was Ed Miliband. The Labour leader could barely contain his excitement, switching from a tooth-baring grin to haughty head-shaking as he struggled to settle on the appropriate demeanour.
At the PM's side sat Hunt himself, nervously scraping a highlighter over some notes. The culture secretary's already pale complexion looked alabaster-like next to Cameron's furiously crimsoning features, but despite his recent troubles with BSkyB and his – allegedly – out of step ex-special advisor Adam Smith, Tory big hitters were out in force to support their man.
However, the spirit of 'we're all in this togetherness' knows limits; the government front bench was a Lib Dem-free zone today, as the party formerly known as third huddled together in the safety of their backbench corner.
Cameron began by sharply pointing out that he had answered the question last week – Bercow didn’t flinch – and impatiently rushed through his defence of Hunt all over again.
Perhaps the effect of hearing the same words twice left Miliband sedated. He. Spoke. Slowly. Seriously. Softly. But he had some sharp lines too. Was Hunt's special adviser on a "freelance" mission? Was the PM reduced to the "New of the World defence" of one rogue special adviser? Or was it a case of "the special adviser had to go to protect the culture secretary…the culture secretary has to stay to protect the PM?" Then the final prodding of the PM's hornet nest of a temper: David Cameron, concluded Miliband, was "too close to a powerful few, out of touch with everybody else".
The PM's file projectiled from his hand to the Despatch Box and a strange growl was added to his delivery as he declared Miliband to be "weak and wrong". Tory MPs, until this point silently unsupportive, sat up bolt upright. "Can anyone remember anyone taking responsibility for Charlie Whelan?" the PM asked. No! They happily replied. "Can you remember anyone taking responsibility for Damian McBride?" No! They repeated. Labour spinners of decades past - safe ground at last. "Bad judgement, rotten politics and plain wrong," Cameron went on. "We've learnt something about the Right Honourable gentleman today, and I think it is something he'll regret."
The threat hung heavily. Tory MPs loyally rose to heap praise on Hunt, Simon Hughes played the "nothing to do with the innocent Lib Dems" card, Jacob Rees-Mogg was upset with something called a "socialist yahoo." In between Labour MPs found Cameron in unforgiving form. Margaret Hodge was dismissed for chairing a select committee which "strayed" off its remit; Denis Skinner (81) was told he could pick up a pension whenever he wanted; Chris Bryant was accused of using confidential information make false allegations about Cameron and was reminded that a "man of honour would apologise".
The tirade of insults seemed to have a soothing effect on the PM, and he was soon strutting out of the Chamber with Hunt clinging closely for support. As allies go, the prime minister is as good as it gets – after this torrent of abusive support, David Cameron will be hoping it isn't something he regrets.
Sam Macrory is political editor of The House Magazine
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