WITHIN a few seconds of getting to his feet to put his first question to the Prime Minister yesterday, David Cameron was indulging in the “Punch and Judy” politics he claims to dislike so much. The government's chief whip, Hilary Armstrong, had interrupted him with a shouted remark and he responded, “That's the problem with these exchanges, the chief whip on the Labour side shouting like a child. Is she finished? Are you finished?” he shouted. Strictly speaking the Speaker should have intervened to remind the new Leader of the Opposition that the chief whip should be addressed as “The Right Honourable member for North West Durham” but perhaps he decided not to admonish the new boy on his first day at school. Tony Blair forgot his manners, too, in failing to congratulate Mr Cameron on his election as opposition leader when answering his first question, although he made amends before his second answer. Generally speaking, the exchanges were polite and reasonably constructive with Mr Cameron stressing his wish to help the government with its impending Education reforms which are disliked by so many Labour backbenchers. Mr Blair has been around for too long not to see the divisive tactic in Mr Cameron's offer and he pointed out that there was a fundamental difference between the parties on selective admission at the age of 11. When Mr Cameron raised the relatively uncontentious issue of the current Montreal climate change summit, Mr Blair contented himself with pointing out that support on this and other matters would require a commitment to increased public service expenditure which he was not certain the opposition would favour. Mr Cameron did not respond although he had one question of his quota left. In the end he did not use it. The shadow cabinet appointments which David Cameron announced yesterday were as had been widely predicted but the choice of Kenneth Clarke to chair a “democracy task force” to examine the independence of the civil service and the reform of the House of Lords was an unexpected, imaginative and most welcome move.


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