By Andrew Gimson
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Nothing during Prime Minister’s questions was as striking as the personal statement made by Nigel Evans (Con, Ribble Valley) immediately afterwards. Mr Evans has just stepped down as deputy speaker while he robustly defends himself against charges which include sexual assault and rape.
One might have expected that he would make a very brief statement, no more than a sentence or two, saying he had stepped down from the deputy speakership in order to concentrate on clearing his name. But Mr Evans instead took the chance to offer his heartfelt thanks to many friends and colleagues, including the Speaker, John Bercow, “for their unstinting support”.
Mr Evans said he found himself in “the land of limbo”, but also quoted Winston Churchill’s words, “when you’re going through hell keep going”, and described this as “sage advice”.
Mr Bercow responded by praising the “exemplary service” given by Mr Evans. In earlier times it seems likely that the greater part of these cordial exchanges, made to a packed House, would have been saved for after the legal proceedings were over. Many observers did not know quite what to make of it all, but perhaps that is always the case during a period of modernisation.
Prime Minister’s questions offered no such innovation. Mr Cameron did, however, employ a wider range of tone about Ed Miliband than has recently been the case. The Prime Minister actually thanked the Labour leader for welcoming the fall in the unemployment figures.
But Mr Cameron soon reverted to his accustomed rudeness, saying of Mr Miliband’s speech yesterday to the TUC, “He went to Bournemouth and he completely bottled it”, and also that “He folded faster than a Bournemouth deck chair”.
Mr Miliband attempted to be just as rude: he accused Mr Cameron of “total complacency and total hubris” about youth unemployment and about the falling living standards of people who are in work.
But somehow the Prime Minister had the better of it. He said he wants “a sustainable recovery that works for hard-working people”: an expression which prompts the question of what he hopes to do for people who are not quite as hard-working, or have retired and are trying to survive on their savings.