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Question time

Brian Taylor | 16:22 UK time, Wednesday, 2 June 2010

All in all, not a bad opening performance by David Cameron, facing questions in the House for the first time as PM.

Silent by his side, Nick Clegg, experiencing, also for the first time, the physical subordination of being the junior partner in the coalition.

Mr Clegg, mostly, maintained an image of beatific stoicism, grimacing only very slightly when his colleague referred to the prospect of the Liberal Democrats nobly abstaining on an issue which divides the new chums, that of married tax allowances.

There were stumbles, of course. The new PM, one feels, will soon lose the habit of thanking Honourable Members from the other side for their contribution.

There were murmurs of discontent when Mr Cameron said he had yet to decide whether to sustain an industrial support package for a constituency in the north-east of England.

Looking slightly shocked for a moment, the PM declared that he intended to pursue the novel approach of telling the truth in his replies.

He would, he said, write to the MP in question.

Initial anonymity

The exchanges with Harriet Harman, Labour's stand-in leader, were serious and substantive. No surprise there given that they dealt with the Israeli interception of the aid flotilla and the issue of rape prosecutions.

Mr Cameron criticised the first - as a declared "friend of Israel". And he argued the case with Ms Harman on the point of whether those accused of rape should be granted initial anonymity.

No time today, though, for matters Caledonian. The Speaker chose not to call a questioner from the Scottish National Party.

The SNP has argued that, in the new House of Commons, it should occupy the "third party" slot previously held by the now-silent Nick Clegg.

They have yet to gain any such assurance from the Speaker, John Bercow. On today's evidence, it will be a no.

After Harriet Harman, Mr Bercow opted for a senior backbench Liberal Democrat, Sir Alan Beith of Berwick who touched on the role of the private sector in his patch. (The PM had said during the election campaign that the public sector was too big in certain areas of the country.)

There followed a series of Labour and Conservative backbenchers - plus Nigel Dodds from the DUP who asked about protection for troops.

Common enemy

Is there a potential pattern there? The DUP have eight seats, two more than the SNP. Will the SNP be invited to provide the alternative opposition contribution next time out?

Incidentally, there was one Scottish contribution. Labour's Ian Davidson rose magisterially to hail Mr Cameron as "comrade Premier".

With scarcely a pause, he explained. "Are we not all in this together?", he declared, with a grin. Were we not, he asked his fellow MPs, about the business of "strengthening the union of the United Kingdom"?

Moving swiftly on, he discerned a common enemy, stating that it was right and proper to "distrust and despise the Liberal Democrats".

Mr Davidson was about to move to his main point - aircraft carrier orders - when the Speaker reminded him that the topic under discussion was Afghanistan. Suitably chided, he sat down.


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