There were two excellent lines in this PMQs. The first was spoken by Nadhim Zahawi (Con, Stratford-on-Avon), though he admitted getting it from “my constituent, William Shakespeare”. Whenever Mr Zahawi sees a white van, it makes him think, in Shakespeare’s words: “This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”
How Mr Zahawi swelled with pride as he declaimed that line. He was like patriotic bullfrog, ready to burst with pride. The Conservative benches roared with joy. David Cameron said he agreed with every word, and referred to the unfortunate tweet by Emily Thornberry (Lab, Islington South and Finsbury) which showed, with apparent disdain, a picture of a white van sitting in front of a house decked with St George’s flags. According to the Prime Minister, Miss Thornberry represents “the modern Labour Party, sneering at people who work hard and love their country”.
Miss Thornberry did not, unfortunately, appear to be in the House to defend either herself or her party. Her tweet got her sacked from the Labour front bench, and perhaps she imagined it would be tactless to appear a few days later on the back benches, but that is really where she ought to have been. At every stage in this affair she has managed to strike the wrong note. But it is possibly not her fault that she failed to attend: she may have been seized by a small band of diehard Milibandistas who are even now holding her in a three-million-pound safe house somewhere in the heartland of their movement, which stretches all the way from Dartmouth Park to Primrose Hill, a distance of well over a mile.
But luckily for the Labour Party, Jamie Reed (Lab, Copeland) was on hand to show that the party has not lost all touch with that arbiter of our times, white van man. Mr Reed declared: “The first thing I think when I see a white van is whether or not it’s my father or my brother driving it.” His joy as he said this was a wonder to behold. Behind him, David Blunkett (Lab, Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough) shook with ecstatic laughter.
The Prime Minister said if Mr Reed “values people who work hard and get on”, he ought to leave the Labour Party “and come over here”. That was fine, but is not the kind of close family relationship with white van man which may be essential in order to win the next general election.
Mark Reckless (UKIP, Rochester and Strood) rose to speak. The Conservatives, who lost the recent by-election in that seat to Mr Reckless, made a lot of noise. The Speaker, John Bercow, insisted in his best failed schoolmaster manner that Mr Reckless “will be heard, however long it takes”. The Conservatives shouted: “He’s only got six months” – a reference to their belief that they will regain Rochester and Strood at the general election.
Mr Reckless thanked the Prime Minister “for spending so much time” in Rochester, and asked a question about the local hospital. Mr Cameron wondered why Mr Reckless has decided to join a party – UKIP – “that doesn’t believe in the NHS”. Mr Reckless looked sick, and as if he has no connection with white van man.
Ed Miliband claimed the NHS is at breaking point. Mr Cameron retorted that “you can only have a strong NHS if you have a strong economy”. So he is once more campaigning on the economy. He must hope that white van man will give him the thumbs up. Within a matter of months, we shall doubtless see a production of Shakespeare’s history plays in which all the main characters drive white vans. It is surely what Mr Zahawi’s constituent would have wanted.