Meryl Streep was present, looking like a Welsh welder


Meryl Streep was in the Chamber to hear Norman Baker make a statement. You know Norman: Transport Minister, combover hairdo, plastic shoes, sometime shop assistant at Our Price Records in Brighton.

He was making a statement to the Commons just after Prime Minister’s Questions. It was something to do with green transport subsidies.

That was about as much as I was able to glean before my internal spam filters kicked in.

The fashion crowd will say that Miss Streep – Hollywood actress, m’lud – was in Westminster because she was researching the role of Margaret Thatcher.

Hollywood actress Meryl Streep
Lib Dem MP Norman Baker

The Commons goes Hollywood: Actress Meryl Streep watched as Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker made a statement

She is to play Mother T in some forthcoming film. Bien pensants will speculate that the celebrated method actress wanted to obtain a feel for the raucousness of the Chamber, the electricity of Prime Minister’s Questions, the size of the twice-weekly (as it was) ordeal at the despatch box faced by Mrs Thatcher.

But Mr Baker and those of us who belong to his small knot of admirers know that she was there for Norman.

She had come a long way but, as they almost say in the smellies adverts, he is worth it.

Miss Streep, wearing unusual spectacles which looked not entirely unlike a Port Talbot welder’s visor, was sitting in the small downstairs gallery reserved for special guests.

She chatted animatedly to Mark Durkan (SDLP, Foyle) and a couple of other Hon Members. There is talk that afterwards some of them secured her autograph.

As Mr Baker opened his statement, standing there with his 1970s-style sideburns, burbling in that faintly West Country burr, one felt a proprietorial pride surge through one’s veins.

It was like seeing your son bat under the watchful eye of Sir Vivian Richards (Somerset and West Indies).

Our Norman may rise no further in Government. He may, later or sooner, return to the backbenches he long decorated with such persistence.

But come the distant, dreadful day when Fleet Street’s obituary writers open their inkpots to scratch out an account of the career of Norman Stanley Baker, Hon Member for Lewes in the Liberal Democrat interest, they will be able to say that here was the man – the neglected maestro! – who performed live for Meryl Streep.

As for the matter of what she made of him, gawd only knows.

David Cameron at PMQs
Ed Miliband at PMQs

Prime Minister David Cameron and Ed Miliband: The Leader of the Opposition is stuck in the pits.

Prime Minister’s Questions was noisy but largely uninstructive. David Cameron was, as far as Labour were concerned, his usual maddeningly elusive self. With one leap he is free.

That’s what happened yesterday, yet again. Edward Miliband makes no visible progress against the Prime Minister.

In the kingdom at large the Labour Movement may swell and harrumph but in the Commons Chamber the Leader of the Opposition is stuck in the pits.

It might help Mr Miliband to vary his vocabulary. He speaks such a dull form of English. The cadences are predictable and nasally whiny. The accusations – he called Mr Cameron complacent, untrustworthy, said he was avoiding the question – feel stale, routine. They are jibes worn bald by recent Opposition leaders.

Novelty is the most precious of commodities for the out-of-office politician. Mr Miliband lacks it.

Certain types of medium-pace bowler in county cricket trundle up to the wicket and hurl the cherry with middling accuracy on an average length.

They tend to be called ‘journeymen professionals’ and they keep the overs ticking over. Yet they seldom win matches. Mr Miliband is at present of that kidney.

He speaks English with no music or relish. The sentences could be instant soup, mixed from a packet. He was not embarrassing to watch and hear yesterday. He was not entirely hopeless.

But nor was he ever surprising or inspiring. He never returns from his sorties with the bright gleam of success. He does not bark with laughter or vibrate with a convincing anger.

Maybe he has come to the conclusion that he need do nothing more at present.

The opinion polls are going all right. The Coalition has problems. Maybe he is right. But it doesn’t ignite my pilot light.

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