PMQs sketch: Fetch the sick-bags

This was reality TV at its best
This was reality TV at its best

Gordon Brown's efforts to demonstrate his sweet and tender nature may have gone a little too far. Was it really necessary to organise a full-on love-in with his chancellor?

By Alex Stevenson

Alistair Darling's admission last night that Downing Street's "forces of hell" had been unleashed on him after a reshuffle mix-up only added fuel to the satanic fires of the Brown bullying row.

So it was no surprise that the chancellor was installed to Brown's immediate right to confront the inevitable Tory taunting head-on. The chancellor's body language seemed reserved. politics.co.uk understands crossed legs with the top limb nearest to the PM indicates reserve and caution. The pair exchanged few words before the main event began.


Perhaps Brown was worried by how the bullying row might affect his clunk-based approach to PMQs, which - because of adverse conditions for bullies up and down the land - might not have been the best approach this time around.

After months of stammering, doubtful performances, the prime minister had finally hit upon a winning formula for dominating David Cameron in PMQs. It involves teasing, taunting, jibing, sneering and mocking the leader of the opposition into submission.

But - oh dear! - these qualities were utterly ruled out today. They could all be interpreted as the actions of a bully. As Brown has been accused of being exactly that, it was his mission to get through the session without coming across as Britain's prime civil servant tormentor.

Cameron's opening questions addressed the miserable failings of Mid-Staffordshire's NHS trust. This was well-suited to Brown's alter ego - the tearful reality TV star who wears his heart on his sleeve - as he whispered tragic tones about the "sadness and the sorrow" of those who have lost loved ones there.

All was going well. But then Cameron switched to discuss "openness at the heart of government". Labour backbenchers jeered in a reflex of panic, for they knew Brown was about to be questioned on Darling's injudicious remarks.

Darling wasted no time in kicking into action. He instantly began whispering sweet nothings into Brown's ear. The prime minister smiled sweetly. Darling, whose political personality does not take kindly to such behaviour, merely crinkled his eyes in response.

Nonetheless the effect was nauseatingly stomach-churning. "Any closer and they'll start kissing," Cameron yelped. We feel certain he was not displaying a hint of jealousy at this very close relationship. George Osborne isn't all that.

It was a relief for the PM when his demands for a question about the economy paid off. Cameron confronted him with a query about Britain's miserable GDP. Brown, as soon as the Conservative leader had begun speaking, began an in-depth conversation with his chancellor on this important matter. By a minor miracle it concluded exactly as Cameron's question finished. Brown, having delivered his answer, appeared bemused by shouting from the opposition backbenches. "That is the question he asked and that is the answer I have given." How on earth did he know? He wasn't listening, after all.

In all the excitement of persuading the world that he and his chancellor were as close as could possibly be, Brown made a terrible mistake: he had got worked up. He began shouting, karate-chopping his hand down on to the despatch box and hurling insults left, right and centre. The insults against the Tories flowed and flowed. In response to one planted question he simply answered: "They're a party led by the airbrush and they're financed from offshore." Cameron didn't even have the chance to reply! Tory backbenchers looked as if they thought Brown should try picking on someone who did.

By the time Nick Clegg stood up to speak Brown might have decided that the point had been made. But no - he remained determined to prise admiration for his Darling into any answer. The Liberal Democrat leader asked a question about equality. Brown answered with the utterly baffling: "The chancellor has signed an agreement with Liechtenstein!"

While good news for the people of Liechtenstein, no doubt, its relevance left Clegg utterly baffled. Darling looked thoughtful as he pondered life in the principality. Its ruler, the affable Prince Hans-Adam II, carefully avoids unleashing forces of hell on his ministers. Perhaps some sort of swap can be arranged?

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