The new kid done well

ENTER the New Boy. Having told anyone who would listen that he wanted his leadership to herald in an era of more consensual politics instead of Punch and Judy entertainment, Labour MPs sat in the House of Commons expecting David Cameron to fall into their yah-boo trap.

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ENTER the New Boy. Having told anyone who would listen that he wanted his leadership to herald in an era of more consensual politics instead of Punch and Judy entertainment, Labour MPs sat in the House of Commons expecting David Cameron to fall into their yah-boo trap.

Mr Cameron was having none of this. But he did pick a fight with the Chief Yah-Booer of them all, Government Chief Whip Hilary Armstrong.

Mr Cameron, wearing a sky blue tie, was in his place long before the Prime Minister deigned to put in an appearance. He was soaking up the atmosphere, facing down the childish taunts coming from Labour MPs.


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Just before the off, defeated leadership candidate David Davis scrambled into his seat on the Tory front bench, sharing a joke with his new boss but no doubt contemplating that it could have been him challenging Tony Blair in this bear pit, an atmosphere which has little since MPs brought swords into the Chamber 400 years ago.

Mr Blair's day didn't get off to the best of starts when a Tory backbencher Stephen O'Brien complained about the reorganising of police forces in England, a policy opposed in the shires where many a Labour MP holds a marginal seat.

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The Prime Minister struggled to sound convincing. Could he have been nervous, wondering what his opposite number had in store for him?

"We will make sure we come up with the right answer," was the reply, adding the stock Labour mantra that investment in policing since 1997 had been higher than ever before.

When the Clydeside vowels of Speaker Michael Martin announced the name David Cameron, Tory MPs cheered and waved their order papers in the best Punch and Judy tradition. And the Conservative leader scored the first of many successes when he took Labour's Chief Whip Hilary Armstrong to task.

"The first issue that the Prime Minister and I are going to work on together is getting the good bits of his education reforms through the House of Commons and into law," he began, and then looking at the yelling figure of Ms Armstrong, he admonished: "That's the problem with these exchanges. The Chief Whip on the Labour side is shouting like a child."

After cheers of support from his MPs and looks of disapproval and wry smiles from the Cabinet, Mr Cameron admonished:

"Now, has she finished? Have you finished?"

It was the prefect opening, the irony of which was not lost on anyone. If the Tories vote against the Education Bill, there would be enough MPs on the Labour benches who don't like it to go into the `no' lobby to defeat the legislation.

In which case, Miss Armstrong ought to be welcoming Mr Cameron's offer to save the Government's bacon rather than howling down, like the child of Punch and Judy, the Tory offer of consensus.

As the youngsters in the audience of the seaside show might shout: "That's the way to do it!"

It was such a withering put down and the Chief Whip didn't know where to look. Two former leaders of the Tory Party, Michael Howard and Iain Duncan Smith - sitting a few rows back from Cameron - probably wished they had had the bottle to try to take on and tame the adversarial nature of debate in the Commons.

Chalk one up for Cameron, who disarmingly went on to tell the Prime Minister the Tories would vote in favour of the education reforms, so much hated by the left wing of the Labour Party.

It all put Mr Blair so much off his stride that he forgot the Parliamentary niceties of welcoming the new Leader of the Opposition. After all, you would have thought he was used to saying it, this being the fourth Tory leader after John Major in a little over four years.

In this his first question time, Mr Cameron was frighteningly relaxed, oozing the confidence hammered into the boys at England's finest public school.

When Cameron broke his own self-imposed rules by telling the Prime Minister "you were the future once," the jibe really hit home, especially as some of Labour's "awkward squad" sitting behind Mr Blair sniggered with delight.

All this consensus stuff, trying to drive a wedge between Mr Blair and the Labour left, could actually backfire unless Mr Cameron is careful. After all, the Prime Minister will not be around too much longer and the Tories are going to have to find a way with dealing with Gordon Brown, who won't mind one wee little bit if the Prime Minister is discomforted.

Labour MPs fell quiet during the exchanges, not quite believing what the new Tory leader had said about making the Commons more mature.

Once the Prime Minister even had to apologise for pointing his finger at the Leader of the Opposition - that certainly isn't in the Cameron book of etiquette.

After exchanges on education, which Cameron won 3-0, there was a score draw on climate change and the Kyoto convention. The new Tory leader could not keep up his opening flourish and nobody on his own side could in truth expect him to have done so.

The New Model Tory knows that the public cannot stand, or understand, why MPs behave like brats when they enter the Commons, especially at Prime Minister's Question. Nobody wants Parliament to become the Old Vic, but surely there is a better way than the Comedy Theatre.

In the middle sat Liberal Democrat MPs, hunched gloomily in their seats, living in fear of being squeezed by a regenerated Tory Party. It was left to Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond > to inject more humour, regretting he was attending a reunion of former pupils from Eton and Fettes - the two top public schools to which Messrs Cameron and Blair spent their formative years.

It was a supremely confident start for David Cameron yesterday. There was an enormous amount of goodwill for him. His consensual manner was different and will probably won't last when there are real policy differences between Labour and the Conservatives.

After all, heaven help us if real consensus ever comes into British politics - proportional representation. We would end up like Germany with a grand coalition and arguing for weeks about who just lives in 10 Downing Street.

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