The first prime minister’s questions of the year began with the unusual, and surprisingly uplifting, news that the processed pig industry is thriving on Humberside.  Mr Graham Stuart, a Conservative MP from the patch, informed the prime minister that an outfit called Cranswick Country Foods in Preston in his constituency – whose rich and reassuring name, so redolent of a line of Range Rovers parked outside an overpriced farm shop, we suspect conceals all manner of unspeakable practices within –  is doing a roaring trade.  Not only is it supporting 1,200 jobs in the area, it has secured an important contract with the US Department of Agriculture, presumably as part of that country’s long-standing interest in extraordinary rendition.  Excellent tidings, though before Mr Cameron had the chance to congratulate the pig-pulverisers of Preston, Mr Stuart added the dark caveat that our own dear Food Standards Agency is standing in the way of even greater export achievement to the Far East.

Fascinating stuff, not least because (and I am grateful to Mr Stuart’s website for this information), Preston is located “east of Hull”, and so we are bound to ask how much more to the far east can you get?  Presumably they are not trying to drop tins of treated trotter into the North Sea, or meet a hitherto unrecorded insatiable demand for pig pate on the Dogger Bank, which can only mean that it is our old friends in China who are anxious for a taste of the Humber’s potted porcine. Mr Cameron looked duly concerned and promised to send a minister from Ag & Fish (or DEFRA as we must now call it) along to sort the FSA, or perhaps it was Mr Stuart, out. The House relaxed.

Though for only as long as it took Ed Miliband to get to his feet. His arrival at the despatch box was greeted by extended cheers, mainly from the Labour benches, though the Tories soon enough cottoned on. As a way of saying here is a man who has screwed up royally in the last few weeks, so we had better offer Mr Loser some encouragement, the gesture couldn’t have been bettered. Undeterred, Mr Miliband proceeded to ask the Prime Minister about train fares.

 This was not in the sense of what you or I would understand as a question about rail tickets. Mr Miliband did not want to know whether the cheapest way of getting between London and Doncaster wasn’t a super-saver off-peak bargain bonus tracker , travelling via Abergavenny in the company of one or more Hindus with a student railcard. However, it might just as well have been the question for the subsequent exchanges told us that, in common with most ticket-window conversations, neither the Prime Minister nor the Leader of the Opposition had much insight into the policies they were talking about.  Mr Cameron insisted that the capacity of the rail companies to charge what they damn well liked for a season ticket was the legacy of Labour’s policy, and Mr Miliband was equally insistent that it was not. 

One is tempted to side with the Prime Minister  in this on the grounds that it is in his interest to remember Labour’s policies, while it is equally in Mr Miliband’s to forget them. However, when the Prime Minister conceded that Labour policy had changed in its last year in office, a smile of triumph spread across the opposition leader’s features as broad as you would expect if he had just heard Lord Glasman had fallen into a sewerage inspection pit outside the Palace of Westminster. Later analysis by impartial UN observers suggested that it may well have been Mr Cameron who was indeed correct. However, by that time the two leaders had moved on to agreeing about Scottish independence, a moment of consensus across the despatch box that was as rare as it was chilling.

And so on to Sir Roger Gale, the Tory who represents North Thanet, who also had trains on his mind. Sir Roger was pleased that the Government was going to build a fast railway line between London and Birmingham – as pleased as anyone might be expected to be who knows the tracks won’t be going through his back garden – but wanted to know why, if HS2 was going ahead, HS1 was being neglected. By this he meant the line that runs fairly quickly from London to Ashford in Kent before slowing to a bucolic meander in the vague direction of the Channel Tunnel.

Sir Roger seemed to be asking for a high speed spur so as to sweep the sleek bullet trains towards his own Kent coast patch. That the geniuses of transport policy haven’t yet got round to making their top priority cutting journey times to Margate down to six minutes may not surprise the rest of us, but it is not for nothing that Sir Roger received the knighthood long overdue him in the new year’s list, for undiminished loyalty to his constituency.   

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