Westminster Times

The one thing that scares the bejeebers out of politicians more than anything else is, as former Tory prime minister Harold Macmillan once remarked, "events, dear boy, events".

Even the best laid plans of the most in-command politician can be thrown into complete chaos, and their reputations casually binned, when they attempt to deal with unforeseen horrors such as, off the top of my head, extreme weather.

David Cameron is well aware of this and that is why he has taken the high-risk approach of becoming the focal point for the floods crisis. If he gets it wrong he could, without any exaggeration, be finished.

But if he gets it right, and so far so good, his reputation for calm competence will be enhanced, along with his electoral fortunes. We will see.

The next worst thing for a politician is to be ignored or deemed irrelevant and denied air time. So spare a thought for Labour leader Ed Miliband who can do next to nothing but sit on the sidelines either carping at or praising the PM, neither of which will necessarily win him much favour with voters.

He is caught by events just as much as the prime minister, but with even less power to do anything about them or use them to boost his standing. Not even a great electricity price freeze stunt will get him onto the nation's TV screens at the moment.


Labour MP Tom "I'll get you Murdoch" Watson tweets what he says must be one of the silliest ministerial answers he has witnessed. And he is probably right.

He had asked cabinet office minister Francis Maude: "Whether the Intelligence and Security Committee has visited RAF Croughton during the last two years."

The base, by the way, is one of America's biggest communications centres in Europe.

The answer from Maude was as follows: "The Intelligence and Security Committee does not comment on the detail of its work programme."

Right. Nothing suspicious there then.

Sin bins

John Bercow
Commons Speaker John Bercow

MPs and Speaker John Bercow love to claim the public hate the rowdy, playground, Punch and Judy atmosphere of prime minister's question time in the Commons.

But there has been precious little proper analysis backing up the claim. Until now.

According to research by the Hansard Society, 47% of the public think the sessions are too aggressive and noisy while 67% think there is "too much party political point-scoring instead of answering the question".

Amongst the recommendations for improving the sittings, was one for the Speaker to exile misbehaving MPs to a "sin bin" for the remainder of the 30-minute session they have been disrupting.

It was also suggested members of the public should be allowed to email questions in to the sessions.

All very innovative and, with Bercow eager to try new things, who knows what might be adopted.

There was, however, one flaw. Only 16% said they had actually watched prime minister's questions all the way through.

So, much of the impression people have of the clashes must come from the soundbites and sketches provided by the media. Who, of course, only ever get excited when there is a bit of Punch and Judy.

Militant takeover

It took all of Neil Kinnock's energy when Labour leader in the 1980s to finally expel the Marxist Militant Tendency from the party. But are the Tories facing a similar entryist threat?

According to recently de-selected MP Tim Yeo, local Conservative constituencies are being increasingly influenced by minorities of activists with "extreme views".

Cameron, Miliband
David Cameron and Ed Miliband Reuters

Quote of the week

Scot Nat and deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon was put on the spot during a BBC programme when she was asked to chose between things like the pound or the euro (it's the pound – well it is now, it used to be the euro) and Herman van Rompuy and Nigel Farage (she said it was the EU President over the Ukip leader but it was "a close one").

Then came the clincher: "David Cameron or Ed Miliband".

She tried not to answer, then attempted to "pass" but, when pressed declared: "I think Ed Miliband is slightly better looking".

I don't think that is quite what they meant.