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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 November 2006, 13:23 GMT
A new low in Commons language?
Deputy prime minister's questions sketch
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

So it is official, the word "tosser" is acceptable parliamentary language.

Commons Speaker Michael Martin
Speaker Martin allowed insult to be thrown at Tories
That is the case after Commons Speaker Michael Martin failed to step in when deputy prime minister John Prescott spat the insult across the despatch box at William Hague and the entire Tory party.

Considering some of the words that have been deemed unparliamentary in the past - dishonourable, drunk, liar, hypocrite to name but a few - it came as a bit of a surprise to many MPs that Mr Martin will now allow them to call each other tossers whenever the mood takes them.

I dread to think where it will all end. And, it has to be said, it was not a pretty or enlightening sight.

Of course it was the Tories who started it with an anti-debt advertising campaign urging young people to "ignore the tosser in you".

Now, that may well be a word in common usage but you do wonder if the Tory admen know what it means.

They claim they are using it in the old sense, meaning spendthrift, or something like it. But we all know what it means nowadays, and it is more likely the Tories are using it in attempt to boost their street cred.

Hand gestures

We certainly all knew what Mr Prescott meant, and anyone still unsure was helped out by some MPs offering graphic, descriptive hand gestures.

The Tories' 'tosser' campaign
The Tories' 'tosser' campaign sparked the jibes

It all kicked off when William Hague started his now traditional, mocking approach to Mr Prescott during question time - something that really gets under Prezza's nose.

He asked Mr Prescott how much Gordon Brown had "robbed" from people's pension funds and reminded him that the greatest pensions fraud was perpetrated by former Labour MP Robert Maxwell.

When the deputy prime minister could not answer, Mr Hague wondered why taxpayers were spending 2 million a year keeping him in his job.

This time, the deputy prime minister was ready with his answer.

And it basically amounted to telling Mr Hague "you are a tosser and so are all the tossers sitting alongside you".

The deputy prime minister said he believed the Tories had brought in "Mr Tosser" to help them in their ad campaign.

"I do not know which person this man was modelled on from the Tory frontbench.

"But let me tell him, I always thought that party was full of them and that is why they lost three elections".

Speaker Martin - who recently tried to ban the Tory leader from asking questions about who the next prime minister might be - said nothing. Indeed, he smiled.

And that has given the green light to "tossers".


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