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Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Thoughts on PMQs...

For the first time in a long time Gordon just about came out on top today, albeit sparring with an opposition leader who had tied his hands behind his back.

Cameron had pledged support for Government measures through the crisis and so was unable to really strike at Brown.

In fact both men had pledged to play nicely today saying the crisis outweighed partisan point scoring – of course neither could help themselves in the end.

It started off with both trying their hardest to out “have-the-interest-of-the-nation-at-heart” each other.

Cameron’s initial questions were tame – affirming the need to stabilize the banking system. Brown mocked him – thanking him for the opportunity to explain how Labour was saving the day.

Every question Dave asked about whether the Government was doing its best to sort out the nation's problems, or if the cabinet would consider Conservative proposals, were met with heckles from the Labour ranks.

The Tories on the other hand seemed to be positively muzzled – as if a memo had gone round telling everyone to be deadly serious. Instead opposition MPs settled for mature headshaking at the childish banter on the opposite benches.

With his last question Cameron couldn’t help but try and push the PM and asked him to give a guarantee to tax-payers that irresponsible bankers wouldn’t get a big bonus.

It was a bizarre question that didn’t quite fit with the Tory leader’s dialogue – particularly as he had defended banks in an earlier remark – and it left him open.

Brown hit back by smugly reading out a quote that Cameron had made on television – “what you won’t hear from me this week,” Dave had said, “is the sort of easy, cheap lines beating up the markets.”

Labour MPs finally had something to cheer about at PMQs. Tories shook their heads like older sisters looking at the tomfoolery of their kid brother.

After today’s performance Dave will be itching to go back on the offensive and Labour MPs will be scrambling to build on what they hope is the foundation of a come-back.

Joseph Watts
Parliamentary Correspondent

Neglect of duty...

City bankers aren't the only ones that have been neglecting their responsibilities in the recent banking crisis.

Left-winger Alan Simpson, Nottingham South MP, joked: "I always thought it was my job to bring capitalism to its knees.

"But I haven't done anything to help all of this on. I feel sort of neglectful."

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Congratulations on your congratualtions

Even Coaker himself looked embarrassed as wave after wave of adulation was lavished on him from around the room.

The Gedling MP's promotion from a junior Home Office minister to Minister of State for Police was announced a couple of days ago.

But colleagues at this morning's debate were so eager to congratulate him that it turned into some sort of weird cross-party love in.

Nottingham North MP Graham Allen, who called for the debate, started off: "It would be remiss of me not to congratulate my right honourable friend on his promotion.”

Later adding that improving drug awareness would; "require a minister, perhaps even a minister-of-state, with unique determination - a quality my honourable friend possesses in abundance."

Fair enough, the two Notts MPs do go back a few years. But step up UKIP MP Bob Spink.

"It's lovely to have such a superb minister with us this morning and I congratulate him on his promotion," gushed the George-Formby-voiced member for Castlepoint.

"It's long overdue. He is one of the best, most caring and able-to-listen ministers in the House of Commons."

Things were getting in full flow. Time for Lib Dem Tom Brake, whose praise was tinged with a hint of jealousy.

He said: "Could I also start by congratulating the minister on his promotion.

"I'll keep my congratulations short because otherwise we may see the minister's head swelling from all the praise that he's received."

Then the Tory's James Brokenshire.

"Can I also congratulate the minister on his promotion?

"I've always found him fair-minded and always very honourable in the way he has conducted his dealings."

The new minister made a good go at humility when he stood up to respond, even sounding a little nervous.

He shouldn't worry though - the honeymoon period won’t last.

Joseph Watts
Parliamentary Correspondent

To the hills...

Labour rebel he may be, but Nottingham South MP Alan Simpson is not a militant.

At least I didn't think so until recently when he mentioned what happened to some eager journalists who followed him out to Italy last year.

The hacks went sniffing around for a tale about how the left-winger was living it up in his decadent holiday home - they were misguided as his flat is only a modest thing for him and his small family.

Two hacks, claiming to be friends of the city MP, went to a local cafe to ask the owner where their target lived.

The wise old Italian, wondering why friends of Simpson didn't know his address, sent them off to a random location in the country side.

When reporting the incident to the MP later the owner said: "It's ok. We treated them just like we did the Nazis. We sent them into the hills."

He added: "Of course we actually killed the Nazis."

I'm assured the hacks returned alive.

Joseph Watts
Parliamentary Correspondent

Monday, 6 October 2008

Return for Campbell?

Word is that king of spin Alastair Campbell is about to make a return to Government.

It seems incredible but after Mandelson’s come back last week nothing is impossible.

A Government spokesman said he had "no information" regarding a return, but you may have got a similar answer had you asked this time last week if Mandy would be in the cabinet again.

Not sure how a lurch back to Blair's team will be received, particularly as Labour is being sold as the party of change.

Joseph Watts
Parliamentary Correspondent

Friday, 3 October 2008

Would you Adam and Eve it?

The most recent casualty in the reshuffle was not a minister.

As whispers of who would replace whom reached fever pitch a few moments ago, Sky News' Adam Boulton announced that former Sun editor David Yelland was going to be No 10's new communications guru.

It turned out to be codswallop and poor Adam had to do a stuttering live climb-down.

After the joy of getting the reshuffle scoop this morning it must've been a bitter pill to swallow for Sky.

But it shows how much gossiping there is going on, and how difficult it is to sort reality from rumour.

Blair for PM - that's Cherie not Tony

As the reshuffle kicks in the rumour mills are going into overdrive.

Now that Geoff Hoon's move to the transport brief is pretty set and Mandy is on his way back from Europe, the question is - who is going to take over as EU Commissioner?

It could still be Hoon, a man who quite fancies the job according to sources, but would have to wait before taking it up. Meanwhile others are betting on Patricia Hewitt.

That brings up another interesting question. Hewitt has a 9,000 odd majority in her safe Leicester West seat.

Who would Labour put in there as a sure bet to win at a difficult time for by-elections like this? Whispers are saying Cherie Blair.

Crazy, I know. But she has been raising her profile recently, TV panels and so on, and she was the only Blair at Labour conference this year.

Joseph Watts
Parliamentary Correspondent

Hoon's on the move

Hoon's going to transport.

For a man who felt the need to say he wanted to stay in Government a week a go, he'll be content to have a department back.

The chief whip's job can be a thankless task, particularly when you are trying to keep such disorderly troops in line.

The wider reshuffle is bigger and more surprising than many thought. Peter Mandelson's return could be a plot-line from a film that goes on too long.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Is Hoon the new Kelly?

A long awaited reshuffle was expected sometime today.

But contrary to original whispers it seems it's going to be a small one - maybe just replacing Ruth Kelly.

After the Labour Conference last week Notts MP Geoff Hoon, along with two other cabinet members, sparked suspicions of cabinet unrest when they publicly said they wanted to stay in Government.

Hoon's name was linked to the soon-to-be vacant EU commissioner position - now it seems "they" are saying he may be given Kelly's old job at the Department of Transport.

Joseph Watts
Parliamentary Correspondent

Ole, Ole Ole Ole...

Absolutely no triumphalism allowed at the end of Tory party conference. That was the rule for Team Dave.

Ironically the message may have got lost on the way to the communications department.

Journalists in the press room were offered free red footballs with "give Labour the boot printed on them."

At least Dave's speech stayed on message, to read about how it and the conference went pick up a copy of Friday's paper.

Joseph Watts
Parliamentary Correspondent