Friday 23 July 2010

Coaker schmoozes the chamber

I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, but there was something familiar about the way Vernon Coaker moseyed on over to the Government front bench and started chatting with his political opponents this week.

The Gedling MP had just been at the opposition despatch box, arguing with coalition ministers over the Government’s proposed Academies Bill.

It realised that the scene reminded me of something that happened at an election hustings back in May when Coaker as a sitting MP was faced with having to fend off a two-pronged attack from the Lib Dem and Tory candidates.

Before the debate Coaker went and sat next to the Lib Dem and started making small talk with her, building a sort of anti-Tory camaraderie.

By the time the debate started they were both all smiles – that was in stark contrast to the Tory candidate who was from the gruff angry-man stable of politicians.

The pair was also sitting on one side of the debate’s chairwoman – leaving the Tory candidate stuck on his own on the other side.

The visual effect of all of this was to make the Tory look isolated and unhappy, while making the Lib Dem look as though she approved of the Labour MP on a personal level. Needless to say Coaker won the hustings.

The Lib Dem later confided that afterwards she had felt “used” by Coaker. I chuckled at the time.

So it was that this came back to me when after the Commons debate this week Coaker wondered over and started chatting with the diminutive Lib Dem Education Minister Sarah Teather.

Coaker, who has positioned himself as one Ed Balls chief lieutenants, has a reputation as a big bouncer type of MP – but he’s got his sneaky side too.

If Balls does win the up and coming Labour leadership contest then Coaker could be in line for a top job.

Even if Balls doesn’t win, Coaker will still make a bid to be a part of the shadow cabinet and with the backing of Balls’ supporters has a half decent chance of getting in.

Clegg pushes influence

Transport Secretary Phil Hammond took a sneaky swipe at Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the Sheffield Hallam MP, during a hacks’ lunch I went to yesterday.

Hammond had been asked a question about High Speed Rail and told that Yorkshire authorities feared they would get pushed off the proposed route by the powerful North West lobby.

“Hmm,” Hammond mused.

“My experience of the Coalition Government so far is that Sheffield seems to have quite a strong lobbying organisation.”

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Straw flops

When Jack Straw stood up at PMQs he resembled a baddy from a cheap Hollywood movie, who does nothing but stare at his opponent with an evil smile on his face.

It felt like he leered, smirking at Clegg and saying nothing for a full five seconds – until the House burst into laughter.

It may even have been a good psyche-out tactic had what followed been an incisive attack. But Straw’s performance, in what was an extremely odd PMQs anyway, was pitiful.

That was lucky for Clegg, who did not shine. But because Straw was so odd, Clegg got away with not being on any sort of form.

Straw was obviously trying to draw attention to Clegg’s handling of the Sheffield Forgemaster’s issue, with an eye on smearing his integrity.

The problem is that no-one outside Sheffield will take notice and PMQs is meant to be a place where you strike a chord with national sentiment.

On top of that Straw waffled awfully in his questions, even more than Clegg in his answers.

Labour MPs were shouting “answer the question” at Clegg – but I’m sure neither they nor he really knew what the question had been.

Straw should have gone for issues that drove a wedge between the coalition partners.

Finally there was this bizarre moment when Bercow called Claire Perry MP to speak, when Straw still wanted to have another question.

Straw simply refused to sit down and clung to the despatch box, doing his staring thing at Bercow as well – with the Commons audibly in chaos this was another black mark against Bercow’s Speakership.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Damian Green's Christmas promise

Immigration Minster Damian Green said something in a committee hearing today which we should not let him forget.

He was being questioned about the detention of children at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Centre, Bedfordshire.

When asked how confident he was that there would be no more children there within a year he said he was very confident.

He was so confident, in fact, that he said if there was a single child there in December 2010 then he would dress up as Santa Claus and deliver presents to them – in a way I’d actually quite like to see that.

New committee, same Vaz

Lobbydog watched the new Home Affairs Committee perform earlier today as it tried to scrutinise Immigration Minister Damian Green.

I had a wheezy feeling when the new Brentford MP, Mary MacLoud, spoke – I couldn’t work out why at first, but then it dawned that her manner reminded me of Patricia Hewitt, but with a Scottish accent.

Then there is Oxford West MP Nicola Blackwood who looked about 15 years old but spoke like an old hand, very sharp actually, no wonder she slew Evan Harris.

Chair Keith Vaz meanwhile was his same old self. He has a very condescending way of putting himself above witnesses who attend the committee to give evidence.

He first asks them a question with furrowed brow as if it is the most important thing ever and then halfway through their answer acts as if he has totally lost interest before interrupting them before they finish.

Still, committee member David Winnick MP managed to direct his fire in the right direction when he commented that Vaz would be “pulling his hair out” if he did not manage to make his question pithy.

The phrase raised a laugh from the crowd because Vaz, of course, has no hair.