“Guys, if you could blow yourselves, ladies, you'd be in this room alone right now. Watching an empty stage” (Bill Hicks). Thus the great comedian pithily summed up the tragedy of the male condition. This tragedy is almost universal. Almost, but not quite. For there is an exception to every rule, and the exception to this rule is to be found in what we, perhaps ironically, describe as our ruling class, in particular the collective body that is Parliament at Prime Ministers Questions. If ever an act resembled self-fellatio, then what happened here at twelve noon today was it.
The day was autumnal, and a cold wind blew through the UK. The house gathered in its private chamber, warm and secure, and paid its customary lip service to the events of the outside world. Tributes to the fallen were echoed around the room, without thought to the reasons why they had gone. To consider that would be to distract from the task at hand, which was to be entirely self focused. Today was the time for the house to be alone with itself, to revel in its own bonhomie and tribal affections. The dark complexities of the twenty first century could be safely locked outside.
Setting the mood, as if dimming the lights, Mr Miliband rose to his feet and gently probed the Prime Minister about the latest unemployment statistics. The house emitted its customary low moan as he was equally gently rebuffed. This was not the reason they had come here. A muted statistical duel did not provide the satisfaction they so obviously collectively craved and desired. But they held on. They knew the main event was coming.
Sure enough, with his third question, straining his rhetoric as far as it would go, Mr Miliband found the spot. How many police officers have gone since the last election? The moan of the house grew to a crescendo. This was it. This was why they were here. Not, of course to talk about the number of police on the streets. Who cares about that? The word ‘police’ could only mean one thing. The house was to debate Andrew Mitchell’s words to her majesty’s constabulary. It was for this moment that the members had gathered themselves together from all corners of the kingdom. This was to be the release that they all so desperately needed.
Nervously rising to the despatch box, the Prime Minister composed himself with some statements about his willingness to ‘take difficult decisions’, causing his own side to cheer more loudly, in anticipation of what was to come. The tension was palpable, Miliband raising it further with some mindless ‘I’d hoped for a straight answer’ tease. Finally, he struck home; “it’s a night in the cells for the plebs, a night at the Carlton Club for the Chief Whip” he roared. The noise was deafening, as the tension that had been building in the house for weeks was released, the cheers and the jeers combining in a cacophony of self congratulation. This was why they were elected. This was the very essence of the Mother of all Parliaments, alone with itself, away from the grim reality of the outside world. Prostrate before its own desire to feature on the ten o’clock news. Less than ten minutes in to the session, and all that they had wanted was done.
As always, after the high came the low, the petite mort. It was tolerated as it always is, as the price of the leaders duel. Backbench questions about murdered children and injured servicemen were answered with the usual calm courtesy. At times it looked like things could once again become memorable, the house raising its excitement levels at the thought of the Prime Minister’s salacious emails with a former journalist, but in the end they knew that the main event had been and gone for another week.
Outside the wind and the cold drew in ever closer.