IT’S BEEN more than two years since I last contributed at Prime Minister’s Questions. Since I’ll be spending most of the next three weeks in Glenrothes, I figured today was as good a day as any to get back on the horse, as it were.
However long you’ve been in the House, there is no more daunting a prospect than asking a PMQ from the back benches (okay, geographically, the bench where I normally sit is a front bench, but it’s not the front bench). The House is really only packed during this half hour on Wednesdays, and you know that if you screw up, every member of the House – as well as the dozens of people watching at home – will see you do it.
I hadn’t tabled a question for today’s session, so my name wasn’t on the order paper. Had it been, and had I been among the first eight or ten on the list, I could have reasonably expected to be called by the Speaker. But when you’re not on the order paper and you still want to ask a question, your only option is to bob up and down in between questions and answers and hope to catch the Speaker’s eye. And that’s what happened today. As soon as William Hague (standing in for Cameron) had used up all his questions and Harriet (standing in for GB) had answered, the Speaker called out: “Tom Harris”.
There may well be some colleagues who can think spontaneously in such circumstances and who don’t feel at all intimidated by the frenzied atmosphere of the Commons on these occasions. I am not one of them. This morning I wrote, then re-wrote my question, printed it out and then spent the whole of Northern Ireland Questions (the half hour immediately before PMQs today) memorizing it and repeating it silently to myself over and over again.
And when I stood up, I was still conscious of feeling unbelievably nervous. It took some time for the noisy reaction to the Harriet/Hague altercation to dissipate, and I had to attempt the start of my question twice. But I knew that when colleagues from both sides of the House heard the subject matter – the absence of a national memorial to the 55,000 members of RAF Bomber Command who died in World War II – the noise would abate. And it did, and I did okay. I think.
Glad to get it over with, though.
PICTURE UPDATE at 11.43 pm: