PMQs as-it-happens

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Today’s prime minister’s questions will begin at 12:00 BST. With Gordon Brown in Japan for the G8 summit, deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman will step into the prime minister’s shoes, as it were. She will face the shadow foreign secretary, William Hague, known for being really rather good at this sort of thing. asked the Conservatives why it wouldn’t be Theresa May, who, as shadow Commons leader, seems her obvious counterpart. We’re still waiting for a response on that one. We won’t wait up, basically.

Ms Harman tells the House the prime minister is in Japan.

A question on airport expansion. “When will the government stop behaving like a subsidiary of BAA?” he asks. Ms Harman launches a fairly empty response about British economic interests.

Ms Harman is confident and expansive. She’s not bad at this at all.

William Hague gets his first question, backed to his right and left by George Osborn and Theresa May, who must still be wondering why she’s not stood up.

His question, on economic management, is met by assurances of the government’s prudence from Ms Harman. That gets wry chuckles and outright laughs.

“Perhaps he will remember that when he was in the Cabinet… was unemployment lower or higher than it is now?” Ms Harman asks.

“We can manage without his advice,” she adds.

“If she wants to be prime minister she needs to start acting like one,” Mr Hague replies.

A little cheap that one, really. But then cheapness has never been a particular obstacle at PMQs.

“Why has he manouvered his right honourable friend” out of doing PMQs, Ms Harman says – talking, of course, about Theresa May.

She says Ms May should go off and become a Bishop. It’s all been well planned in advance, but you’ve got to love the enjoyment the minister for women and equality beams with when slamming the Tories on this one.

Vince Cable stands up for the Liberal Democrats. He wants an improvement on social housing.

Ms Harman softens her tone when she speaks to him. You get the impression she feels more of a link to fellow left-of-centre party the Lib Dems that the tribal Mr Brown does.

Nevertheless, Mr Cable says government moves have been “a drop in the ocean”.

Apparantly Mr Brown is competing with the leader of the Tories to be “weightwatcher in chief” – according to Mr Cable. Murmers in the House during his question reach such a level its hard to hear him properly. Mr Cable is really good during these things but even he struggles to get over the natural irrelevance other MPs treat the party with.

Off the point, I know, but Ms Harman really does have a nice black and white blazer on. I’m going to be in trouble for that one. I mean, we never comment on Mr Brown’s clothes. All the same, officially approves of the deputy leader of the Commons’ taste.

Back to Hague.

He points to Brown’s message of not wasting food. He then says government departments shouldn’t waste food either. Odd.

Ms Harman says no-one would take dietary advice off a man who drank 18 pints a day, as the shadow foreign secretary once boasted. Mr Hague assures her “none of that was ever wasted, I can tell her”.

“Isn’t there something supremely ironic about being lectured about food waste by a prime minister who is past his sell by date?” Mr Hague continues.

A sustained attack on Brown – the whole House “wishes her well” when she tries to succeed him, Mr Hague says – is followed by what feels like a genuine defence of the prime minister from Ms Harman.

She assures Mr Hague there wouldn’t be enough airplanes “for all the men trying to flee the country” if she became prime minister.

Really a good line that one. MPs rarely opt for self-deprecation during PMQs, or play on their own stereotype. It’s hard to laugh at someone laughing at themselves.

Of her many faults – and for many people a die-hard PC attitude is one of them – Ms Harman is reassuringly honest about her own image.

A Tory MP tells Ms Harman most coups happen when the leader is away – “as my party knows all too well” – so what’s stopping her?

She insinuates the only reason he’s in parliament is to ask “daft questions”.

A Labour MP asks Ms Harman to condemn Father 4 Justice’s tactics. Ms Harman does so. Asking someone to express irritation at the fact there are men crawling around uninvited on their roof is not a particularly difficult thing to do.

A Tory tells Ms Harman that “this side of the house” associates itself with what was just said.

Politicians tend to stick together in the face of waking up in the morning to find angry middle-aged men on their property.

On working men’s clubs, Ms Harman is half way through the answer when she stops and says: “Infact, probably what I might do is ask” her colleague from the department of local government to take forward that meeting.

I mention that only because there was nothing staged about it. She really did just stop and think about something and then tell the House she would probably go ahead and do it. A little thing I know, but somehow worthy of a little respect as well. Ms Harman retains the ability to appear about half human, and just for that fact she remains one of the top performers on the Labour front bench.

The House disperses.