Week in review: The Tale Of David Pigling Squirrel Tiggywinkle Cameron
First he's a mouse, next minute he's a chambermaid: are Tory MPs intent on turning their party leader into a character from Beatrix Potter?
David Cameron, who has spent most of the week takin' it easy, has been on the receiving end of some rather belittling comments from two of his MPs. First came the comments of Tim Yeo, a cheerleader for the Heathrow third runway crowd, whose language in a newspaper article was obviously seeking to undermine David Cameron. The PM would be either a "man" for U-turning on his commitment not to build a third runway at Heathrow, or a "mouse" for sticking with his manifesto. There are genuine arguments for a rapid expansion of Britain's biggest airport, as Elizabeth Truss has been making clear to politics.co.uk this week, but Yeo's tone in making them seemed as much to do with his attack on Cameron as it was to do with the issue at hand.
Avoiding the temptation to draw Cameron as a cartoon mouse, lured by the cheese of support from all those fat cats of the business world, the end of the week saw another intervention – this time from the treasurer of the 1922 committee, Brian Binley. His attack on the prime minister was even more outspoken. He had been neglecting his party so badly that he had become a "chambermaid" to the demands of the Liberal Democrats. A chambermaid mouse, then? A fine job for Mrs Tiggy Winkle, but not the sort of thing an Eton old boy ought to be aspiring to.
Perhaps Paddy Ashdown was right when he wrote at the end of the week that all this trouble was caused by the time of the year; when the silly season stories "give way as they always do, to the press' September pre-conference bombardments on the political parties and their leaders". He was writing to defend Nick Clegg after a Lib Dem peer, the irrepressible Michael Oakeshott, criticised the deputy PM on the Today programme. Ashdown's argument was that "all party dissidents, minor or not, suddenly find themselves welcome on every front page and in every news studio". But it felt like Oakeshott's comments would have been newsworthy whatever the time of year. "We have lost over half our market share, if you like, since the election," Oakeshott said. "Any business that had done that would be looking very hard now at both its strategy and its management to see how we get some of that back – because otherwise we're going to lose a large number of seats at the next election." Clegg is under increasing pressure because Oakeshott is a well-known outrider of Vince Cable, the left-leaning business secretary, and a real alternative to Clegg for the Lib Dem leadership running into the next general election.
This is all rather regrettable for the Lib Dem leader, who is after all doing his best: his proposal for a tax on the wealthy, short of details but strong on spirit, attracted a lot of headlines but was quickly slapped down by George Osborne. There are many pitfalls to the idea, as tax experts have been explaining for us.
Not content with battering their party leaders, Conservative handbags were swinging especially freely this week against each other. Louise Mensch officially stood down as an MP, but not before her stay in parliament was shredded by the never-knowingly-polite Nadine Dorries. The no-holds-barred denunciation saw Dorries condemn Mensch as being "void of principle". Mensch, finding herself on the "naughty step", as she put it, will be glad she is leaving the world of Westminster behind.
This was also the week when Richard Branson mounted a desperate last-ditch attempt to save Virgin Trains' franchise on the west coast mainline. The petition in favour of Virgin reached an impressive 165,000 by the end of the week, but it was too late for Branson. Or so we thought: court proceedings have been launched as the bearded one continues his fight against the government. Not quite how the franchise system is supposed to work, but there you go.
An even more improbable struggle began with the internet rumour that Andrew Strauss, who resigned as England's cricket captain on Wednesday, might become an MP – and even attempt to achieve this career swerve in the looming Corby by-election. It sounded preposterous. But we covered it anyway.
Next week the silly season is officially over. Parliament returns, with a fairly decent two-and-a-half week stint before the party conferences get underway. It's been an unusual recess, thanks to the Olympics. And even this week the Paralympics opening ceremony couldn't pass without some kind of Tory gaffe (thanks, Edwina). But we're glad parliament is back. Let another season of politics – kicking off with a reshuffle, we suspect – begin.