Prime Minister's Questions: The Return of Serious Dave

Even before the first dissenting voice clamoured to be heard in the chamber today, PMQs had already got spicy. Father of the House and noted rug enthusiast Sir Gerald Kaufman (Lab, Manchester Gorton) had ranted to The Guardian (where else) that PMQs is a "load of rubbish" and the Prime Minister a "waste of space." Perhaps Sir Gerald decided to vent his usual nonsensical opinions away from the Commons, lest he fall foul of Speaker Bercow's pledge to clean up PMQs in the face of 'very widespread public disapproval.'

With the chamber sounding like a restless GCSE history set after Scottish Questions (and the requisite sniggering at any mention of Angus MacNeil's lavatorial mishap the previous evening), a stern-faced Cameron approached the lecturn - gone was the bumptious swagger of the previous week, replaced with a more ministerial gait and gaze.

James Berry (Con, Kingston and Surbiton) opened the bowling: a rousing statement on the jobs boom - so laced with sycophancy that even Berry himself failed to keep a straight face - leading into a lay-up about Crossrail 2. Cameron, toning down the rhetoric from 'boom' to 'boost', championed the project and the work of all his colleagues (Operation Salvage Party Unity in full swing). 

Up popped Harriet (how Cameron must yearn for an adversary with some teeth), raising the issue of giving referendum votes to the pimply sixth formers of these isles - the Left's new cause célèbre - and walking straight into a Cameron right hook about Labour's complete capitulation over opposing the referendum. Let's vote on it, said Dave with his majority. Next. 

Harriet, taking umbrage at this blunt dismissal, reprimanded the 'sneering' PM for his 'lack of class.' Cue chortling from a front bench oft-accused of having too much of the latter just a month or so ago.

Purdah, Mr Prime Minister? Game-face back on, Cameron gave a frank response about not being neutral on the referendum, and again: let's vote on it - the joys of having that majority. Referendum minutiae seemed to bore the PM, his answers curt and frank, and childcare queries from the Leader of the Opposition fared little better in bringing out his playful side. By the third or fourth question from his counterpart, Dave had adopted the weary tone of a schoolmaster dealing with a petulant ward. It took an accusation of 'gloating' to bring a look of incredulity to Cameron's face - I was only quoting you, my dear! Harman's backstabbing of Miliband over a lack of economic credibility: the gift that keeps on giving. 

On to Anne Main (Con, St Albans) - dressed as though she may be dashing off to a wedding afterwards - and a vehemently gesticulated query on business rates. Serious Dave was back, playing that one with a straight bat. Angus Robertson (SNP, Moray) wanted some praise for employers paying the living wage: well done them said Dave, and - trying to aggravate his already prickly opposite number further - not to 'gloat', but Number 10 pay the living wage too! Robertson wasn't finished: when will the rest of the UK government be just as gracious as Scotland’s and pay all its employees the living wage? Oh you poor fool. Too simple for the twinkle-eyed PM: it's easy for you, Angus, given all the extra funding we give you, and what's with the SNP discombobulation over full fiscal responsibility? Something to do with no longer having enough in the coffers to afford to do things like pay the living wage? You demand what you don't want and then complain when you don't get it!

With Robertson summarily dispatched, it was the turn of Mike Freer (Con, Finchley and Golders Green), who in a fit of sartorial hubris had selected a tie of the exact same pinkish hue as his face. There's to be a Neo-Nazi demonstration in Golders Green, deplored Freer in his monotone and pausing to eyeball a particularly chatty member of the opposition, can we call on the police to use all their resources? Don't worry, said Serious Dave, Theresa's on the case - she's written a letter to the Met.

New MP Naz Shah (Bradford West) - who managed to usurp Gorgeous George and speaks as if she is halfway through masticating some particularly dense bread - had a shy dig at Cameron's evasiveness. Why are you neglecting Bradford in your Northern Powerhouse plans, Dave? Welcome, Naz, and thanks for the opportunity to take a quick shot at the 'always wrong' Galloway. Bradford is a great city, according to Dave - clearly he's never been.

Nigel Huddleston (Con, Mid Worcestershire), a man of glossy hair and confident visage, wanted to say how well the long term economic plan is working in Worcestershire, and had a query about the redoubling of the Cotswold railway line. But that's my railway line home, beamed Dave, you're my new best friend! A blushing Huddleston didn't appear to return the affection.

Bercow, by this point, was eager to get a shift on (judging by the gargantuan bags under his eyes he may have needed a nap). Mark Durkan (SDLP, Foyle), in his rock-chewing Northern Irish brogue, wanted more GBS testing for pregnant women. Serious Dave was grateful, and will be getting back to him on that. Johnny Mercer (Con, Plymouth Moor), roundly praised for his absolute corker of a maiden speech, requested more information as to how the government would be rewarding those hard workers on the minimum wage. Dave, evidently, was a big fan of Mercer's maiden speech too, and decorously gave him the party spiel on raising the personal allowance, working on the minimum wage, and the growing economy equating to more jobs. With questions like that, Mr Mercer will swiftly find himself in the PM's good graces.

Looking and sounding like a bad rendering of a 1980s accountant, Alan Whitehead (Lab, Southampton Test) wanted reassurance that the PM wasn't going to be cutting funding for household energy efficiency programs - it's for the vulnerable, you see. Progress has been made, said Serious Dave, before deciding that he hadn't had much fun at Labour's expense so far, and, bringing up 'gloating' again, likened Whitehead to a rare bird - a Labour MP in the South. 

Time for the Balls-Vanquisher herself, the delightful Andrea Jenkyns (Con, Morley and Outwood). Amid triumphant cheers from her cohorts, even a fluffing-of-lines couldn't dampen her smile as she brought up the issue of tackling economic migration from outside the EU. Dreamy election result Andrea, Smooth Dave purred, and listed off a litany of solutions as a curious Sajid Javid looked on. Mary Glindon (Lab, North Tyneside) wanted the PM to meet a group of children afflicted with muscular dystrophy. Dave, off to Brussels and unable to oblige, put on his serious face and gave the measured response warranted by the question.

Here came the vociferously robust Karl McCartney (Con, Lincoln) and a invitation for the PM to give Lincoln's tourism revenue a boost. The Magna Carta's great, said Dave, and Lincoln's nice enough. Grahame Morris (Lab, Easington), an earnest looking fellow, wanted to get his hands on the Treasury's assessment of the economic cost of leaving the EU. The PM kept it short - ensure all possible facts and figures available to the electorate - power to the people! Martin Vickers (Con, Cleethorpes) wanted the PM's assistance in pushing through a direct rail service from Kings Cross to the Grimsby/Cleethorpes/Scunthorpe area (the level of enthusiasm of Londoners for this service went unmentioned). The investment's there, reassured Dave, and in the meantime you can still hop on a train to Manchester airport if you fancy a change of scenery. 

An EU question from Douglas Carswell (UKIP, Clacton), to no-one's surprise: using Cameron's soundbites against him and admonishing him for not asking for particular repatriation of certain powers from Brussels, all whilst wearing the perturbed expression of a man who finds it increasingly difficult to get called on these days. A party of one with a backbench rebellion - historical, joked Dave, before letting Douglas know that he’s still negotiating. 

Philip Davies (Con, Shipley), blocked out the dissenting voices and wanted the PM to refute the economical scaremongering over the Brexit. You are a vigorous chap, said Dave, but it’s not just trade, it’s about having a say in how a market works. Chi Onwurah (Lab, Newcastle Upon Tyne Central), whined that British productivity was falling, and it’s the fault of those dastardly Tories. Simple answer: drop in the much-used economical figures, add various platitudes about future economical growth, and point out that Labour are the ones who opposed the policies that got the economy back on its feet.

Finally, amid rapid fire questions on on assisted dying, Tata Steel, OFSTED ratings, delays to benefits and even the A358 (it’s going to the the expressway to the South-West, don’t you know), came a mention of the inimitable Boris: Karl Turner (Lab, Kingston Upon Hull East) wanted to know when the PM would be passing the baton to the rumbustious Johnson. Bemused, Dave insisted that there’s only one baton that interests him: the one that Boris passes to the next Conservative Mayor of London!

With proceedings closed, the PM moved onto his statement on the G7 summit; the Labour MPs to dreaming of a time when their leader could actually trouble Cameron during PMQs; and Bercow, presumably, to his office for a little lie down.