Page last updated at 15:05 GMT, Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Sarkozy glamour outshines PMQs

The Queen and President Sarkozy of France
The thoughts of most of MPs were focused on events at Windsor

Prime minister's questions sketch
By Reeta Chakrabarti
Political correspondent, BBC News

Usually PMQs is the highlight of the parliamentary week - but this time you sensed that, mentally, MPs were elsewhere.

In Windsor, to be precise, where President Sarkozy and his new wife, the former model Carla, were dutifully inspecting the troops and making small talk with their royal hosts.

The near-presence of such Gallic glamour had MPs - mostly male - in a perfect tizz.

The French First Lady's arrival has coincided - unluckily for her - with the auction of a full-length nude picture of her by Christie's - a photo lovingly reprinted in Britain's papers.

The prime minister, never exactly nimble, unwisely paused after welcoming President Sarkozy and his wife - allowing room for an outbreak of sniggering not heard since the last Westminster showing of Carry On.

Seated next to Gordon Brown, Jack Straw - justice minister and master of the inscrutable face - looked like the three wise monkeys rolled into one - not seeing or hearing his boss's blunder - and certainly not speaking thereof.

Billet doux

No such faux pas from David Cameron, who moved briskly on, after his own Sarkozy welcome, to the palpable disappointment of many of those present.

At least five backbenchers managed to drop in a casual reference to the French visitors.

The most enthusiastic was former Europe minister Denis MacShane, who referred to the president's BBC interview as a "love letter" to Britain, and suggested we sent him one in return.

"Send him a French letter," squealed a nearby wit - and the place dissolved again.

Mr Cameron managed to sidestep the outbreak of pre-pubescence - and had a repeated stab at kebabing the prime minister on the failings of the Financial Services Authority over Northern Rock, and on the government's handling of the economy generally.

The Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, hands slicing the air to make up for not having a despatch box, did sound and fury over the rate of house repossessions.

Dental debate

Mr Brown - often lumbersome against David Cameron - has mastered a tone of contempt in response to Mr Clegg - crystallised by his weekly reference to him and him colleagues as the Liberal Party.

France and the economy aside, the strangest line was prompted by the Tory backbencher Sir Paul Beresford, a dentist by profession, who asked a question about fluoridation of drinking water.

A jolly good thing, agreed the prime minister, before saying without any obvious irony: "It is a good thing for the teeth of the people of this country."

Which, however you read it, just doesn't have that certain je ne sais quoi.


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