With the end of the world as we know it about to be announced by Chancellor George shortly after 12.30pm, it was obvious that serving up Prime Ministers Questions as an hors d’ouevres would be tricky. But, with Christmas just around the corner – or at least until George spoke – MPs were more than happy to practice seasonal shouting in preparation for what was to come later.
Clearly, fearful of fans en route delaying his arrival the Chancellor had earlier made the 100 metre journey from the Treasury to the Commons in a chunky chauffeur driven accompanied by an equally chunky bodyguard who had more than a passing resemblance to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander. And even before George creaked open the coffin lid it was the afore-mentioned Chief Sec who provided the first shock of the day.
Ever since the Coalition was formed PMQs has seen the title holder Dave at the Despatch Box with Deputy Clegg firmly anchored – albeit disinterestedly – to his right.
But, as the nation switched on today it was Danny’s ample posterior polishing this seat of power with the former holder sandwiched between the PM’s left arm and a white-faced version of the Chancellor.
It was clear that Dave had decided if he and George were going down then the rest of the quad, as the four men in charge of the economy are known up and down the streets of Britain, were going with them.
Having spent most of the year suffering through PMQs picking up the pieces left by George’s last speech to the nation in the 2012 Budget Dave seemed almost relaxed
as he realised he was only the taster for what was to come. Indeed he even found rare popularity with his own side as they too awaited the news from the Chancellor they will have to repackage and flog to their constituents who, in an opinion poll this morning, said they were 14 percentage points more likely to vote Labour.
The thought of a Labour victory is always enough to concentrate the minds of those MPs who see signing-on as there only career opportunity in 2015 and Ed Miliband rose to the increasing volume of insults which can only confirm the poll results.
Ed has seen his own fortunes change dramatically since George brought in the pasty, pensions and 5p off income tax plan and could only hope for more from the Chancellor’s latest go. But, with his alter-Ed Balls preparing his own response the Labour leader’s set lines were gone and he had to settle for a score-draw with the PM who managed, for once, to keep his temper and thus his sun-tan intact.
Then suddenly it was George-time and Tory MPs cheered with all the noise and enthusiasm of the condemned as the Chancellor got to his feet.
Having become Billy no-mates after the budget it was nice to see that the Chancellor’s wife and mam had turned up to give him support. (There was no sighting of Mrs Alexander senior who obviously thought her lad was still in school.) And they were not to be disappointed as George, never knowingly embarrassed, immediately declared that the British economy is healing.
Labour MPs seemed momentarily stunned by his opening gambit as Tories cheered this sudden and unexpected turn in their fortunes. Speaker Bercow was forced into an early intervention and appeal for calm as the Chancellor, obviously heartened by the reaction to his opening gambit declared more good news. The devil indeed is in the detail but George had clearly decided that the further away he stayed from it the better his speech would be and so he did and so it was.
Having declared just two and a half years ago that hard times now would produce good times by 2015, he added a further three years and gave the impression that had been his plan all along. He announced a squeeze on welfare benefits and said he knew how difficult families find the cost of living. He said he was going after those companies who didn’t pay tax and reducing corporation tax to 21% or those who did. He said no to a mansion tax and Nick swopped his nodding head for a shaking one and he said we are all in this together .
With the Speaker’s appeal now totally ignored the less numerate Tory MP’s, apparently seeing electoral safety in sight, could only cheer themselves hoarse and even some on the Labour side seemed unnerved by George’s confidence.
Ed Balls was clearly off his game as he stumbled into what he had anticipated as an easy put down of the Chancellor’s plans. You could see that he too had been thrown by this bravura display of brass neck.
He gradually won his way back to traditional insults but you could see he was desperate to get himself off to a quiet corner with his calculator to work out just how George was conning him.
And thus Christmas was delayed until 2018 and there were cheers. But then again, there were cheers after the budget.