These may be straws in the wind. They may even be hay bales in the wind. But on Wednesday, Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat MP for East Dunbarton, asked Tony Blair if, now that he had seen off his fourth Tory leader, it might not be time to “say goodbye to the Punch and Judy style of prime minister’s questions?” Mr Blair said he agreed with her, adding: “We will wait and see what happens next week.”
You might feel that for Tony Blair to sound rueful about knockabout question times is like Lewis Moody agreeing that rugby union should always be played in a gentlemanly fashion. We can share the sentiment, without necessarily feeling that he is the right person to express it. Anyhow, we also learned over the past few weeks that David “Dave” Cameron, who seems certain to be facing the prime minister next Wednesday, intends to agree with Tony Blair when he thinks he is right. This may be just a ruse to split the prime minister away from his backbenchers, but even so it is an intriguing development. Not one we sketchwriters welcome, of course – the thing we most dread is the Commons turning into a continental assembly, all reasoned argument and collegiality. Bring on the sausages and the policeman’s truncheon, we say.
Then yesterday we heard from Alan Johnson. The trade and industry secretary doesn’t stir it or deploy his truncheon. His catchphrase is “the hon gentleman makes a very in teresting point”. In the whole 50-minute session he had only one word of criticism for the other side – “that is nonsense on stilts,” he said, which was a joke rather than an attack.
The first set of questions was about “micro-generation in UK homes” which will apparently cost nothing and prevent climate change. I guessed this meant that we would generate hydroelectric power at home by connecting a hamster wheel to the kitchen tap. And I wasn’t entirely wrong. It seems we will all have solar panels and saucer-sized wind turbines on the roof. Some homes, possibly those with a tiny Sizewell B in their garden shed, will actually feed power into the national grid, so that instead of getting a bill from the electricity company, you will receive a cheque!
Mr Johnson agreed heartily with those who raised the topic, especially with Tory frontbencher Bernard Jenkin. When his opposite number, David “one-and-a-half-brains” Willetts rose (he’s been demoted from “two-brains” since his last-minute switch to David Davis) Mr Johnson found that he agreed entirely “with the point that is being made”.
The only time where his geniality seemed as if it might fail came when Mr Willetts asked him if he had learned yet to love the EU trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, as the prime minister bids us. Mr Johnson: “There is love abundant in my heart for the commissioner, and there always has been.”
Oooh, missus! But in the new, touchy-feely, happy-together Commons, he might not even have been sarcastic.