PMQs has returned after last week's recess and so here I am, Gentle Reader, pen poised, ears pricked and tail up, like a dog greeting a bullying master hoping to be tickled behind the ears for once instead of kicked up the rear.
Sadiq Khan, the Transport Minister, is a guest of Andrew Neil today so he isn't in his usual cheer-leading, order paper-waving position on the front bench - a sad loss to Brown who'll have to rely on the braying Balls-Coopers and Straws. Khan, by the way, was on the receiving end of a terrific grilling by Neil who isn't one to suffer fools. Let's hope for a video! UPDATE: Hooray - here it is.
Brown led the sad tribute to the seven servicemen kia in Afghanistan in the past two weeks.
Cameron first asked about the appalling death rate at Stafford Hospital (report out today) Burnham, the Health Secretary, sat po-faced and pouty while Cameron said that victims' families wouldn't be happy with the Inquiry which was behind closed doors and with no public hearings.
Cameron then moved on to the Darling episode while Brown pretended not to hear and had a cosy chat with Darling. We really should have a lip-reader on the team.
Cameron seemed to think he was auditioning for the comedian's slot on X-Factor: 'If they get any closer they'll be kissing...Why does the moral compass always point at someone else other than him? I gather things have got so bad in Downing Street that even the security guards need protection.'
Bercow made a good second intervention which seemed to calm down the rabble, for a while at least: "If Honourable and Rt Honourable Members do not stop shouting I may have to ring some sort of helpline myself - or worse still, suspend the sitting. It makes an extremely bad impression, this sort of noise and ranting, on the British public. I appeal to the House to have some regard for the way in which we are viewed by the electorate. The House will hear the Leader of the Opposition." Nice touch but too late - the damage has been done and is irrevocable while the majority of this clique of MPs is still in office.
Clegg led on A Future Fair For All ('not a slogan but a warning') and took Brown to task over the growing gap between rich and poor which has widened under Labour. All denied by Brown who instead accused the Conservatives of wanting to abolish Child Tax Credits.
Clegg wasn't having any of it. He's been doing quite well at challenging Brown at PMQs lately; it's a pity I don't like his left-wing, EU-hugging, statist policies.
David Heathcot-Amory, Con, Wells, raised the matter of government spending on 'advertising, marketing & self-promotion', which has increased by 40%+ in the past year. 'Since it obviously isn't working, will he cut it out?'
There was a shameless piece of politicking from David Clelland, Lab, Tyne Bridge, ostensibly about the OFT's Scams Awareness Month (!) in which the word 'Scameron' was used. Brown, never one to let a jibe go by, answered: "They're a a Party led by the airbrushed and they're financed from off-shore." I think he should have a word with his script-writer.
Some further questions:
On the Dubai assassination from part of the anti-Israel brigade (Mark Durkan SDLP, Foyle).
When Blair described him as 'the big clunking fist', did he mean it literally? (A cheap shot from Stewart Jackson, Con, Peterborough).
Corus and Tata - 80% full order book in December now mothballed & 1700 made unemployed (good, relevant question from Dari Taylor, Lab, Stockton South)
A moral imperative to articulate and inform about our Troops and Afghanistan (Richard Benyon, Con, Newbury). Welcome back Alchy Ada.
The insufferable Stephen Pound (Lab, Ealing North) really likes to be centre-stage.
Cameron made some reasonable points and actually sounded quite cross at times. Brown, as ever, was in denial - shouty, condescending, dismissive and evasive. He stumbled over many of his words and the slicing, chopping, stabbing and clawing actions were back in full swing. He doesn't like to be challenged, and it shows.
Contributed by Calling England where you can also see videos of the action.