A TV journalist in Parliament confided in me this week that he was having real trouble in finding any worthwhile political stories to report. “Mr Sunak is being steady and careful; Mr Starmer is just being boring and saying nothing for fear of upsetting the apple cart. Net result is that PMQs is like a dull game of tiddlywinks on a wet Wednesday afternoon.”
Long may that ‘dullness’ last, say I. The Government’s job is to run the country - the often tedious minutiae; the dozens of Statutory Instruments passed without comment each week; the tedium of detailed analysis of legislation; the vast array of Ministerial decisions and actions, and their daily scrutiny by we backbenchers. What the people want is competence, not excitement; and the Sunak administration has set about providing just that.
Of course, there is plenty going on in the world - economic travails nationally and in our domestic budgets (which will in my view improve dramatically as energy prices fall, inflation follows, growth creeps back, unemployment stays low and consumer confidence returns with the spring weather); the appalling war in Ukraine; climate change and bizarre weather (including torrential rain and flooding here in Wiltshire); strikes and disputes. These and a thousand more concerns are filling up the PM’s in-tray. But he is dealing with them systematically, professionally, unspectacularly, under the radar in many cases. And that, in my view, is exactly how it should be.
My first week back in Parliament may sound pretty frenetic – with constituency concerns and correspondence; sundry environmental matters; planning an array of military and foreign affairs events over the year to come; and settling back into the Parliamentary routine. It’s Monday to Thursday in Westminster (16/18 hour days); Friday and Saturday in the constituency which feels more leisurely by comparison, but is no less important.
Brexit, leadership, glamour, PartyGate, Elections, Covid – let’s continue to put all of these excitements behind us, get back to how my father used to describe this time of the year: “Old Clothes and Porridge”, and rejoice in the mundane, the routine, down to earth workaday politics and government.
So I took some pleasure in telling my journalist friend that Tiddleywink is in fact a very pleasant eight house hamlet near Yatton Keynell in my constituency. It owes its name to some kind of rhyming slang for a ‘drink’, hence a wayside tavern especially for the old drovers. I tried to reassure him that it rains in Tiddleywink no more nor less than anywhere else; and that while it may not be the most exciting of places on a Wednesday afternoon, it’s got a great deal to recommend it by comparison with the hothouse of PMQs.
Give me a wet Wednesday in Tiddleywink every time.