An opening eBay offer of 99p (plus £2.75 postage and packing) for three Ziegler Wasserwerfer 9000s wasn’t quite what Boris Johnson had hoped.
But it did go some way to recouping the £218,000 the mayor of London had spent on the water cannon that had just been condemned to eternal rust by the home secretary.
Theresa May doesn’t often smile in the House of Commons but for this particular parliamentary statement she was prepared to make an exception. There is no longer any fun to be had in making Labour look stupid – it is managing to do that itself without any help – so the government front benches are having to find their pleasures elsewhere. With George Osborne using last week’s budget speech to start building the third runway at Heathrow, Boris baiting appears to have become the Westminster theme park’s top attraction.
“Ziegler Wasserwerfer 9000,” May sniggered repeatedly, making Boris’s mighty water cannon sound like a children’s toy. Which, to be fair, might not have been too far off the mark as Yvette Cooper – in a rare gesture of cross-party friendship – was keen to point out. “The water cannon that the mayor of London has bought,” she said, “are 25 years old and have 67 defects. The home secretary is quite right not to authorise their use.”
Anyone other than Johnson might have now been wishing he had spent the capital’s money more wisely on the latest Ziegler Wasserwerfer 12000 GTX Hybrid, which is now available from all good Ziegler Wasserwerfer stockists. Or, better still, waited until he was given the go ahead to use his Poundland master-blaster.
The mayor, though, came out with all hoses blazing. The Ziegler Wasserwerfer 9000s had been a fantastic deal, he declared. Had he bought them in good working order, they would have set back London a cool £4m; so to snap up three that were completely useless for just £218,000 had been the deal of the century. For the Germans.
Johnson also struggled to understand the physiological differences between Londoners and the Northern Irish that allowed water cannons to be a constant presence on the streets of Belfast. May was patience personified as she explained how the people of Northern Ireland had evolved separately from the rest of the British mainland and actively enjoyed being pounded with high pressure water jets.
At least they would if they worked. She was less happy to be reminded that Dave “Never Miss a PR Opportunity” Cameron had been ecstatically enthusiastic about water cannons during the 2011 riots, so she reluctantly allowed Johnson to keep his second-hand Ziegler Wasserwerfer 9000s locked up in a garage for a rainy day.
It hasn’t been a good week for the London mayor, but at least he takes his defeats with better grace than the prime minister. Despite Labour being on life support and Harriet Harman barely going through the motions at the last prime minister’s questions before the summer recess, Cameron was on tetchy form. “Put that in your leaflets,” he snapped sweatily, when asked about his national living wage.
The uncanny ability of his ministers – step forward Punxsutawney Chris Grayling – to turn victory into defeat through a complacent disregard for legislative procedure must be getting to him.
Evel may just be an unnecessary Evil, but the embarrassment over the fox-hunting U-turn is more personal. Cameron had been hoping to reacquaint himself with Raisa the police horse – if not the nag’s owner, Elisabeth Murdoch – in the autumn. Raisa said the delay was a huge weight off her back.
This article was written by John Crace, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 15th July 2015 18.07 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010