Is the aim to muddy the pitch?
For those who agreed with Mikeâ€™s initial assessment of Greengate, the Labour Party’s response must have seemed a little strange. The â€˜points of orderâ€™ from the Labour benches following the Speakerâ€™s statement on Wednesday seemed determined to draw partisan distinctions between those who supported the operational independence of the police and the neutrality of the civil service, and those who clearly (in their view)* cared only to assert the rights of Parliament and get an MP off the hook. John Reid, Dennis MacShane, and Andrew MacKinley all played variations on this theme, after the gun had been fired by Lord Mandelson on the Today programme that morning.
So why, if this crisis is at-best embarrassing to Labour, would they perpetuate the conflict, and (not least by insisting that 4 of the 7 members of the Speakerâ€™s panel be from the Government) fire partisan shots across the chamber? In keeping with the slanted whimsy and caprice I have been afforded the last two Saturday mornings, letâ€™s imagine this as a game of Rugby Union, between the Notting Hill Gentlemensâ€™ Club (many of them wearing their Oxbridge Blues) and the Primrose Hill Working Mensâ€™ Club (with a couple of ringers â€“ the new man at Number 11 went to Loretto, and the vice-Captain is ex-St Paulâ€™s Girlsâ€™ Schools 1st XV) in Red.
The Reds have been in trouble since the retirement of their veterans, including star playmaker Blair, who has since decided to cash in on after-dinner speaking. Their doughty former full-back Brown has been less reliable than expected since moving up to Number 10 (fly half), and his erratic (re)distribution has been far from prudent on many occasions. His team have seemed tired and sluggish, just as the new captain of the Blues dictated an attractive, crowd-pleasing running-game, vastly improving his team’s previously-abysmal reputation for recycling possession(s). Energised, slick and deft of foot, even their Jerseys sparkled like the motor-powered aluminium windmills that adorned their clubhouse. Their huge territorial gains looked completely irresistable only a short time ago.
However, Brownâ€™s decision to bring back Mandelson from the a managerial job in Belgium has proven inspired, and the former Captain of Forwards-not-Backs immediately introduced himself to the fray by landing (out of sight of the officials, but not the crowd) a splendid left-hook on Osborne, who is supposed to be shadowing Labourâ€™s man at Number 11. The ensuing handbags-at-dawn energised the Reds as only fisticuffs can, and blemished the hitherto squeaky-clean reputation of the Blues.
Being as violent as any legal activity is allowed to be since the prohibition of fox-hunting, itâ€™s not been surprising that serious professional injuries are common in this sport. In the absence of decent video footage, we must accept that Labour might not have explicitly summoned the medical officials to make an unauthorised intrusion onto the pitch, ostensibly to tend to the bloodied carcass of the Home Officeâ€™s reputation. There can, however, be no doubt that the overzealous manner of their arrival (a stretcher, a rescue helicopter, and a team of Urologists) impeded an enterprising attack on Immigration down the Right Flank by Damien Green. The Conservatives were left howling their derision in vain at the hapless referee, and his inept lineswoman, but to no avail. Such has been the chaos and confusion, that everyday drama was lost on many of us. Indeed, few noticed when a stray hack from the Rugby Club newsletter overheard the captain of the ballboys bemoaning the personal attributes of his crew who have largely outperformed him since he took over. It remains to be seen whether the medical officer in charge will be given the job of Physiotherapist in Chief for the National side after such a high-profile fiasco.
What veterans like player-manager Mandelson recognise is that if the Reds are to stand a chance, they need to kill the ball and make this a partisan trench-war between the brutish might of the uglier contestants. No player must be allowed to leave the pitch unbloodied â€“ every combatant must be so covered in mud and grass that the men resemble pigs, and the pigs resemble politicians, until the crowd are barely able to tell the difference any longer.
Rugby games are rarely won by playing to your strengths â€“ only the truly great sides are victorious by that path, and it takes inspiration and luck even when facing mediocre opposition. For a side past its best to be victorious it needs to play to its opponentâ€™s weaknesses â€“ the ugly, tribal mud-wrestling of the bigger beasts. If the opposition want to win, they will need match terrifying levels of eye-gauging, spear-tackling brutality. Even if they succeed, they will look bad doing so, and be less fresh for the next encounter.
If this is indeed the game plan, then the Blues should look to their bench. Beyond Grayling, they have few true bruisers (perhaps Pickles at prop-forward, or the captain of Defence, Liam Fox). If Greg Hands could stop his obsession with petty rules around tied-up bootlaces, he could be useful. But to face the back-row scrummaging power of Blunkett, Reid and Prescott, I think captain Cameron needs to bring back some of his own heavyweight ball-carriers. David Davis survived the first three Home Secretaries who faced him, and retains a credibility that make him much-loved on the terraces whence he came. Ken Clarke may have been outspoken and unreliable in his eagerness to play in the Heineken Cup, and his smoking habit is not in keeping with the new professional branding of his team, but he rarely puts in a bad performance and would bring some weight to bear. One can only be sorry that Miss Widdicombe has signalled her firm intention to retire.
The rest of the game is not going to be won through free-flowing darts from flank to flank. It will be won in the dirt, with the trading of titanic blows and orcish charges. There will be casualties, and the crowd may grow restless as the teams of men concentrate more on beating their opposite number than actually winning, but this is how the end-game must be played. It is perhaps regrettable, but inevitable, given how much it means to each of the players in this professional era. But at least once its all over, they can return to the chumminess of the clubhouse bar, kindly subsidised by the small-print processing charge added to the receipt of every supporter who ever bought a season-ticket.
I donâ€™t know about you, but Iâ€™m almost looking forward to it.