PMQs: Beccles, Bungay, swivel-eyes and the hysterically happy DUP

Did you know that the happiest people are in Northern Ireland? Laugh-a-minute DUP MP Nigel Dodds told us so at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday. The DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson, on his feet following this announcement, bore something of a burden. Not known for his cheery disposition, a colleague twice entreated him to “Smile Jeffrey”.

High pantomime was the order of the day. Dear Gerry Kaufman seems to think that longevity in the House should be matched by longevity of questioning. Well into his sixth paragraph, it seemed, the Speaker gave him fierce winding up signals and commented: “The right hon. Gentleman has been lucidity itself. I am sure he is bringing it to an end.”

Peter Bone is the House of Commons’ Pantomime Dame without the levity or any of the costumes. His “My wife said to me…” routine was abandoned today in favour of another of his hilarious old favourites: the “What happens when my party leader dies?” routine.

The Prime Minister told us that retail guru Mary Portas is going to sort out the high streets in Beccles and Bungay – as well as the unalliterative Lowestoft.

And a Tory backbencher, of the Dorries/swivel-eyed persuasion, talked about “The Curse of Clegg” in relation to immigration.

…Yes, all that fun packed into thirty minutes.

…Oh, but wait a minute. I’ve forgotten something, haven’t I?

Ah, yes. The leader of the opposition. Not a bad day for him. He managed to thoroughly embarrass Michael Gove (More! More!) for saying, allegedly, that the Leveson inquiry is having “a chilling effect” on free speech. Using Blair-like skills of mind warping, David Cameron managed to pretend that Gove was entirely in agreement with the government’s line on the matter. Well, he is now.

Then we had the NHS again. A rich-seam for Labour, they obviously realise. But Cameron has well and truly dug in on this matter and continues to dig. He’ll emerge somewhere soon just outside Woy Woy, New South Wales.

We descended, as usual, into a “Swop Shop” of encyclopaedic lists of professional health bodies, some (very obscure ones, it seems) for, some (more well-known ones) against, the Health and Social Care Bill.

But I think Cameron had a good point when he accused of Miliband of continually going on about process and never actually talking about the substance of the bill. A change would be refreshing.

One of my favourite MPs, just because he gives the impression of being a big teddy bear, Sir Robert Smith, asked whether the £10,000 tax threshold change could be speeded up. Full marks to the LibDems for organising a remarkably omni-present campaign on this.

Another one of my favourite MPs, simply for coming from nowhere during the election counts in 2010, Ian Swales, asked if the PM agreed that “giant (wind) turbines should not be built…close to residential areas without local people having a say”.

Finally, The Deputy Prime Minister made his debut at a PMQs attended by David Cameron. When Ed Miliband called into question Nick Clegg’s support for the Health and Social Care Bill, Nick Clegg actually said something. Normally he just sits there studiously avoiding any form of nodding. Yes, he actually said:

I support it.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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