Political junkies who can’t watch enough Parliament on TV may have tuned in on Tuesday Feb 4th, when the Liaison Committee interviewed the Prime Minister. True, you had to switch on at 9 in the morning, and then adjust the brightness control; the Prime Minister took off his jacket, and Cherie had done a fantastic job with the white shirt.
People write to me asking for tickets for Prime Ministers Question Time; I have a waiting list for these as long as John Reid’s for hip replacements. When you get to the top, you will see the PM from 50 yards away in the Strangers Gallery, and the show lasts for 30 minutes.
But when he appears before the Liaison Committee – which he does twice a year - there are seats available for the public within a few feet of him; and the show lasts five times as long, for two and a half hours. No interval; no commercial breaks.
Next time he appears – which will be in July – get the 8.06 from Andover, arrive at Waterloo at 9.20, and walk over Westminster Bridge to Portcullis House. Allow a bit of time to be searched, and you could have a ringside seat. Sit behind the PM, and your friends may see your right ear.
Not only will you see your Prime Minister; but you will also see your MP. As Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee, I sit with my fellow Chairmen on the Liaison Committee, working out how to break through the PM’s defences. The frontier he is defending is a long one, and in theory we should know where he is vulnerable. We spend our lives cross-questioning people.
The PM does not belong to my Party, but I concede in a spirit of generosity that he looks after himself with competence. He is a difficult man to land a glove on.
After four sessions, I have discovered whether or not you have scored and I share this secret with readers. If you irritate him, he will throw in your Christian name during his reply. Thus, in response to Tony Baldry who implied the PM was out of touch “I am sorry you say that, Tony”; to Donald Anderson “I do not accept that is, Donald, if I can say with respect….”
So how did your local MP score on the Christian name front? Yup, I was there with the other bovver boys. In response to my suggestion that the public response to Hutton was not what the PM wanted “I think we should wait and see, George….”