Thursday, 2 April 2009


A friend kindly invited me up to the Gods of the press gallery for yesterday afternoon's Prime Minister's Questions, and so I took the rarefied air of the Mother of Parliaments for the first time in 6 or 7 years. Not much changes, of course. This is England. The halls of the palace still have the feel of those uppercrust-if-slightly-faded European hotels. And the chamber remains an august bear-pit created for boorish 'adversarial' behaviour.
I should stress that I am no Hercules, and no Adonis, no Einstein neither, nor am I anyone's spring chicken; yet it does still seem to me that Commons debates and exchanges are a setting that permits a staggering number of paunchy, purple-faced, intellectually vapid specimens of manhood to hoot and bray scornfully from their seats as if they were ready for a principled punch-up in the street that very moment. When, in fact, it seems obvious that most of them could neither argue or fight their way out of the proverbial soggy paper bag.
It's still a bit surprising to my fragile ears how much noise gets made when people, such as the Prime Minister, are speaking. But this is what MPs have to get hardened to, and you see why women and other people with manners usually need a while to get habituated. I'm reminded though of what Christopher Hitchens habitually said when facing a tough anti-war crowd: if only you could hear how foolish you sound when you boo...
Gordon Brown is a seasoned and robust performer at the despatch box, and his scornful smiles toward the Opposition benches when on top are clearly deeply felt. But he's not nimble on his feet in any respect, and utterly rubbish at a number of the things that Blair carried off in his sleep, notably running away with the Leader of the Opposition's last question of PMQs, so as to rally his own benches. That said, Blair was never down so low in the polls, a fact that is possibly Cameron's strongest debating point. Cameron too is a very assured performer, though he's looking noticeably older all of a sudden: most likely this is the toll of grief for his son.

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