Perfect heckle leads to victory over Tories

THE House of Commons broke for summer recess this week.

Inevitably, an end-of-term feeling comes over the Palace as MPs prepare to return to their constituencies.

Last year, I came back in the middle of the recess and was shocked to discover that most of the place was like a building site. Carpets had been taken up, pictures moved and everything seemed to be boarded up. I had made the mistake of taking for granted the huge amount of work that goes on to maintain a historical building as a modern functioning parliament.

Most of that work, of course, has to be carried out during the summer recess when parliament is not sitting. The recess does, however, give the opportunity to spend more time in the constituency office, and to visit the various groups and institutions it is impossible to meet when at Westminster four days a week. For my own part, the session ended on an equally low and high note. A triumph of any sort at Prime Minister's Question Time is greatly valued in the House.

A well-timed heckle of the leader of the opposing party which throws him off stride, is the most valued parliamentary currency of all. As Paul Flynn wrote in his wonderful book Commons Knowledge - How to be a Backbencher (Seren books): The secret is timing... One word is best.
Four is the absolute maximum.' My opportunity came at last week's Prime Minister's Questions. Iain Duncan Smith has long been asking a formula question, trying to show that government policy is failing.

It usually comes to a climax with, So will the Prime Minister now tell the house how many...' at which point he inserts the policy he wants to claim has failed.

But this time he paused and, as Paul Flynn wrote, Choose the seconds of silence during front bench pauses to fire the verbal ammunition.' So, anticipating that the words how many' were about to follow his pause, I called them out first. Sadly for the Leader of the Opposition, his brain had already engaged his tongue and it was too late to stop.

He repeated how many' to the huge amusement of the House. It is difficult to explain why these things matter, but Prime Minister's Questions affects the morale of your party like no other event.