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David Cameron and Ed Miliband are a disgrace to public life

By Andrew Gimson 
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"Is there any point in this, Gimmers?" my neighbour in the press gallery asked half-way through PrimeAndrewGBigBensketchtwo Minister's Questions. "Yes there is, but I'll have to tell you afterwards," I replied, for I like to listen with morbid conscientiousness to what is actually said in the Chamber.

By the end of the session, I had to admit that the point of the exchanges did not appear to be to convey any new information. David Cameron kept saying the Labour Party has been bought by the trade unions, while Ed Miliband and other Labour MPs kept saying the Conservative Party has been bought by the tobacco industry.

How one wished Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband would plead guilty to these charges, or at least place on record their gratitude for the generous donations they have received from the tobacco industry/the trade unions [delete as appropriate], and point out that these are preferable to taxpayer funding.

Instead of which we got a continuation of last week's dialogue of the deaf. Mr Miliband asked in vain whether Mr Cameron "has ever had a conversation with Lynton Crosby about plain cigarette packaging".

The Prime Minister did not, it seems, wish to admit to complete deafness, for he did at one point respond: "The role of Lynton Crosby is to advise on how to defeat a divided and useless Labour Party."

But since Mr Cameron's reply was not closely related to the question which had actually been put, one suspects he just used it because he knew he was going to be asked about Mr Crosby, and had therefore prepared a line about him which could be used at any point in the half hour.

It is true that Mr Miliband began by asking about the number of nurses employed by the NHS, but his heart was not in it, for he soon moved on to the altogether more significant question of cigarette packaging. As the late Shiva Naipaul once observed, the command "Thou shalt not kill" has become "Thou shalt not smoke".

The impression grows that Mr Miliband is happier talking about tobacco packaging than any of the great questions of our time, while Mr Cameron is happier talking about trade unions than any of the subjects for which he is actually responsible. Both men are a disgrace to public life and one trusts they will return from their summer holidays full of a determination to rise above this paltry level.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Con, Louth and Horncastle), first elected in 1959 and by virtue of long service Father of the House, rose and reminded us that one of the purposes of this session is to ask the Prime Minister about something serious: "During his friendly discussions with Chancellor Merkel, have they examined the evidence that it is the existence of the European single currency that is a major cause of the despair that is now sweeping across southern Europe?"

Sir Peter warned that democracy itself is threatened in several members of the euro. Mr Cameron had nothing useful to say about this. 


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