PMQs Verdict: Sombre, sober and in memory of a man respected across the house

January 8, 2014 1:54 pm

I’ll be honest, I was expecting fireworks at PMQs today. It’s the first day back after the Christmas break and MPs have had about as long a break as they’re going to get between now and the General Election. I thought I’d see the party leaders launch themselves at each other like a pair of oversized jack-in-the-boxes. I thought it would be angry, unseemly and probably rather boisterous.  I’d even written a piece with Marcus Roberts this morning talking this up as the real beginning of the political year.

And then ninety minutes before PMQs came the tragic news that Paul Goggins MP had passed away. And the mood in Westminster shifted from angry to sombre.

I didn’t know Paul Goggins, but I’d heard plenty of his colleagues in the house praise him in the past both publicly and privately. What’s more remarkable though is that I’d never heard anyone have a bad word to say about him. In the often robust and aggressive atmosphere of Westminster it’s rare to hear only good things about someone. He sounded like an exceptionally good man. I wish I had known him.

So into the chamber trooped MPs from across the political spectrum this afternoon. Many of them knew, liked and respected Goggins. The Speaker gave a moving tribute to the Wythenshawe and Sale East MP, which was followed up by touching tributes from both the Cameron and Miliband. The latter seemed to bring a few tears to even some of the grizzled veterans of the green benches.

house_of_commons.jpg

With such a sombre start, PMQs was never going to be a bun-fight today. It’s hard to spend five minutes sharing praise for a man respected across the house only to follow that up with a twenty five minute slanging match. So the questions from Ed Miliband were precise and measured. And the answers from Cameron were similarly restrained.

Sure, there were some moments when the temperature of the room increased. Diane Abbott took a swipe at the government over housing benefit, and Tom Blenkinsop pressed the PM on a rather questionable visit to Downing Street (which Political Scrapbook have covered in detail). But on the whole this was a much calmer, more serious and more respectful occasion.

It was suggested by the BBC’s Nick Robinson afterwards that today was, perhaps, the first PMQs of a new, more mature, more statesmanlike style. It was even suggested that the two leaders might have come together over the break and agreed to take the temperature out of proceedings. I very much doubt that.

No, this was something altogether simpler but more visceral. This was a group of people, many shocked and saddened, who decided that today was a day for mourning, not a day for caterwauling. It spoke well of the man Paul Goggins was that he could bring calm to where there is normally such anger. He will be missed.

Latest

  • News Scotland Video SNP surge “is real” – Lord Ashcroft speaks ahead of Scottish polling announcement

    SNP surge “is real” – Lord Ashcroft speaks ahead of Scottish polling announcement

    Labour activists, MPs and strategists will be paying close attention to Lord Ashcroft’s polling of Scottish seats (which should be out in the next few days), but for a taster on that – and the impact of UKIP, watch this interview of Ashcroft from Sky News’s Joey Jones:

    Read more →
  • News Roy Hattersley defends Miliband over NHS election focus

    Roy Hattersley defends Miliband over NHS election focus

    Former Labour deputy leader Roy Hattersley has leapt to Ed Miliband’s defence, after the current leader received criticism from former ministers this week for relying on the NHS too much as an election issue. Alan Milburn and John Hutton made public their scepticism about Labour’s plans for the NHS, with former Health Secretary Milburn saying “major reform” was needed in the health service. Following Neil Kinnock’s call for an end to “sniping from behind”, Hattersley has also come forward to attack […]

    Read more →
  • News Wales Former Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy announces retirement

    Former Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy announces retirement

    Paul Murphy, MP for Torfaen, has announced he will stand down from Parliament in May. Murphy has represented the constituency for 28 years, since first being elected in the 1987 election. He served as Secretary of State for Wales twice, under both Blair and Brown: his first stint between 1999 and 2002 was followed by another 18 months in the role between 2008 and 2009. He also served as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland between 2002 and 2005, and […]

    Read more →
  • Featured We must ensure that disabled people get to cast their votes

    We must ensure that disabled people get to cast their votes

    By Stephen Twigg MP and Kate Green MP There are around 11 million disabled voters in the UK. In a few weeks, they will have the opportunity to go to the ballot box and have their say on the future direction of our country. Between now and May 7th, it is imperative that we do all was can to ensure their voice is heard. Our democracy is becoming increasingly inaccessible. Over the last year, as the Government have rushed the […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured The Labour Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing – and now’s the time to fight.

    The Labour Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing – and now’s the time to fight.

    Every day matters. Every single day between now and 7th May, thousands and thousands of Labour activists will be out on the doorsteps fighting this general election one street at a time. But through the cold and the rain and the dark nights, this fight isn’t just about the Labour Party, it’s about the millions of people we got into politics to represent. It’s about the people whose doors we knock on – the young woman worried about whether her […]

    Read more →