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

  • Featured Nearly one million people forced to use food banks in the last year

    Nearly one million people forced to use food banks in the last year

    David Cameron and his party may be claiming that the cost of living crisis is over – but perhaps they should speak to the nearly one million people who were forced to rely on emergency food aid from food banks in the past year. 913,138 adults and children received three days’ emergency food and support from Trussell Trust food banks in the last 12 months – that’s a rise of 163% on the number who were helped in the previous financial year. […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Going for the student vote: Postgraduates matter more

    Going for the student vote: Postgraduates matter more

    In a politics dominated by efforts to chase the grey vote it is nice to see a bit of electoral competition at the other end of the generational divide. As Labour weighs up what to do about tuition fees it might seem that a big offer to students could yield important gains next year at the general election, as well as shoring up any post-2010 support tempted to return to the Lib Dem fold. 40.5% of students voted Lib Dem […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Independence won’t deliver for Scottish women

    Independence won’t deliver for Scottish women

    As the referendum debate in Scotland picks up pace, there is an increased focus on how women will vote. So far, it would seem that women in Scotland are steadfastly resisting Salmond’s overtures. It’s no surprise, given that his central offer for more childcare has been dismissed by the experts, and women are starting to understand that the SNP are being led by polls and not principles. Women are asking why, if the SNP’s commitment to equal representation is real, […]

    Read more →
  • News Weekly survey: Cost of living, elections and devolution

    Weekly survey: Cost of living, elections and devolution

    Average wages are set to rise faster than prices – so is there still a cost of living crisis? Ed Balls says there is, the Tories are arguing that there isn’t. What do you think? And with the European and local elections coming up next month – how much campaigning is going on in your area? And when were you last out on the doorstep? Also in our survey – Ed Miliband has pledged to devolve at least £20 billion to be […]

    Read more →
  • News Labour have a mini reshuffle

    Labour have a mini reshuffle

    Labour have had a very mini pre-Easter reshuffle, with two new role announced. Thomas Docherty, formerly Angela Eagle’s PPS, has become Shadow Deputy Leader of the House, while Angela Smith moves from that position to become a Shadow Environment minister. Congratulations to both on their new roles.

    Read more →