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Wednesday 9th January 2013 | 23:41
WORDS: Sam Macrory
This Ronseal thing is getting confusing. When the Government’s glossy mid-term review was published on Monday, David Cameron boasted that it did exactly what it said on the tin. But by Wednesday the contents of said tin didn’t appear to match the label. Someone had left off the list of the Coalition’s pledges, met or otherwise. Easily done. There’s only 122 pages of them.
Don't worry, David Cameron told Ed Miliband at PMQs, wait a little longer and you'll get to read a version that is "full… frank…. completely unvarnished." Unvarnished? That doesn't sound like's it had the Ronseal treatment after all.
Either way, the stains of the saga were proving hard to remove. Not surprisingly, Mr Miliband spent the first PMQs of the New Year asking the Prime Minister to explain his editing process.
He couldn't really. He'd publish the complete version this afternoon, he repeated. Couldn’t the Labour leader come up with something better? “He's had a week in the Canary Islands with nothing else to think about” remarked Mr Cameron – whose own complexion suggests that wintering in West Oxfordshire is far better for tanning purposes.
I rather got the feeling that the Prime Minister didn’t want to talk reviews or pledges. Judging by Mr Miliband’s response, I got the feeling that he didn’t want to about much else. He sounded obsessed with the “secret audit”, giving a bungled presentational job far more of a sinister edge than it deserved.
But the suggestion of shadowy behaviour seemed to annoy the PM. If a new year’s resolution was to keep calm he broke it within minutes by carrying on as he had in 2012: lquickly dsecending into visible annoyance and trying to butt in on Miliband’s question. “Calm down” the Labour leader chided with a smirk likely to have quite the opposite effect as Ed Balls’s eurythmy interpretation got underway.
“He's a PR man who can't even do a relaunch” Mr Miliband declared, adding that "the nasty party is back.” The Labour leader worked with a "shadow chancellor who he can't sack and he won't back", replied Mr Cameron. We were back to 2012 all over again.
They all seemed a little exhausted – not a good sign for the first week of the new year. But maybe Mr Cameron’s mind was elsewhere: "The only little red pests I pursue are in this House" the PM oddly declared when asked whether he still enjoyed fox hunting. The answer suggests a possible slide into madness, with the PM scratching himself furiously for phantom red ants while someone searches for the list of 399 pledges.
The Prime Minister at least remembers who his friends are – or rather who they think they are. When Philip Davies, a no nonsense Tory right winger, asked Mr Cameron if he preferred Norman Tebbit to Nick Clegg – heavyweight stuff at the Mother of Parliaments today – the PM hesitated briefly before announcing that he was "closer to all Conservatives than to anyone from any other party." Davies grinned menacingly. Nick Clegg laughed nervously. Cameron smiled awkwardly. Sometimes pests are blue you see.
So not many answers, well-worn put downs, and jokes which a Christmas Cracker would turn its nose up to. All very familiar. At least PMQs does exactly what it says on the tin.
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