"If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen."

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

PMQs: Verdict

Cameron began by paying tribute to the Royal Marine, 40 Commando, who died of his wounds in Birmingham on Monday and the two soldiers from 1st Btn, Duke of Lancaster's Regt who died yesterday.  He praised "the exceptional work" of our Armed Forces in Afghanistan and highlighted the important role played by the medics who work alongside them.

The first question fell to Philip Davies (Con, Shipley) who asked whether the PM accepted that those who voted Conservative at the election didn't do so in order to see criminals released early from prison or given softer sentences [wails from the Labour benches].  "If he really wants to reduce the budget of the Prison Service can I suggest that he takes away Sky tv from the 4000 prisoners who enjoy that luxury in their cells."
Cameron said he shared his views and the last govt had left no money so failures in the system had to be addressed: drugs, more than one in ten a foreign national and 40% commit further crime within one year of release.  Glaring at the Opposition front bench he said it's "a record of failure we've got to reform."

This week's session between Cameron & Harman was a gloves-off affair.  Cameron was indignant, sometimes impatient, and Harman was strident, snappy and repetitive (some things are incapable of change).

Harman opened with the unemployment figures which, despite showing a fall, were "still too high ...  Can he promise that none of the policies that he will put in his budget will put more people out of work."
Cameron: Any rise in unemployment is a tragedy. The figures gave a mixed picture - the claimant count is down but jobless figures are up 23,000. "We will bring in our Work Programme which is going to be the biggest, boldest scheme for getting people back to work as soon as we can and everything that will be..."

He was heckled by Labour b/benchers at this point and, as he fixed them with a stern eye, he carried on: "Honourable members should remember why we've had record unemployment in this country, which is the record of failure we inherited...  What I can tell her is that everything we do in the forthcoming budget will be about giving this country a strong economy with sustainable public finances and clearing up the mess left by the person sitting next to her."  It has to be said that Alistair Darling didn't look too thrilled to have attention drawn to him in this way.

And so it carried on. It's worth watching at least this exchange in full on video and you'll see what I mean about the attitudes and the high level of energy in the Chamber. PMQs is certainly a changed landscape since Brown's departure and you won't be surprised to hear that it's much better in that the pace is faster and questions are answered.

Cameron doesn't dismiss questions from Opposition backbenchers out of hand  - he listens and if they're sensible rather than party political point-scoring he does them the courtesy of providing decent answers.  The mood is also noticeably lighter with more impromptu humour (see John Bercow, red-faced and rocking with laughter in his chair at a Cameron joke).

Cameron's 'speech' of the day in response to Harman accusing him of talking down the economy: "What the Rt Hon lady and members opposite have to remember - never mind talking the economy down, they *did* the economy down. They left this country with £155bn deficit, the biggest deficit in our peace-time history. They're the ones who let the banks go rip, who told us they'd abolished boom and bust but gave us the biggest boom and the biggest bust. They were the ones who told us they were going to lead the world out of recession. Our recession was longer and deeper than others. They haven't told us one single penny of the £50m that they were going to cut - not one penny - and do you know where they ought to start? They ought to start with an apology."

That certainly got the backbenchers cheering enthusiastically and they also enjoyed his line about the Labour leadership contenders looking like a Star Trek convention.  PMQs is much more enjoyable all round.

Shorts:
Sir Alan Haselhurst (Con, Saffron Walden) was on the backbenches after serving as Deputy Speaker for as long as I can remember and he asked about the uncertainty surrounding the second runway at Stansted airport.
Andrew Miller (Lab, Ellesmere Port & Neston) questioned Ken Clarke's alleged remarks about government aid & the Vauxhall plant. Clarke was clearly seen shaking his head and mouthing, "No, I didn't". Miller asked for "properly constructed agreements" not for only Vauxhall but other hard-hit firms as well.
Stuart Andrew (Con, Pudsey) asked a specific question relating to one of his constituents whose son had been stabbed and murdered but one of the murderers was seeking to have his sentence reduced and the other had fled the country.
John Woodcock (Lab Co-op, Barrow & Furness ) asked whether the govt would honour the defence contract for Astute-class submarines signed in March this year and which would bring employment to his constituency & across the UK.  During Cameron's response we were treated to a shot of Bollox Bob Ainsworth scratching his armpits.
David Evennett (Con, Bexleyheath & Crayford)  About waste in the Regional Development Agencies.
Cameron:  Cited examples of waste: East Midlands Development Agency - over £300,000 for offices in N. America; North West Dev Agcy - shared an office in Newport beach; 1NorthEast had offices in China, Japan, Korea, Australia; South East Dev Agcy chairman spent £51,000 on taxis and 'executive' cars in one year alone
Margaret Hodge (Lab, Barking) raised a question regarding a constituent who is being refused cancer treatment drugs by NICE.
Douglas Carswell (Con, Clacton) asked why the govt is offering a referendum on Alternative Voting, which was in no Party's election manifesto, but still no referendum on EU integration. 
Jim Dobbin (Lab Co-op, Heywood & Middleton) asked about "involuntary tranquilliser addiction" and cost effective, long term, withdrawal treatment programmes.
Sir Alan Beith (LibDem, Berwick-Upon-Tweed) asked for a response to the Rural Communities Commission's Uplands Inquiry which detailed the suffering of hill farmers and the farming environment.
Elfyn Llwyd (Westminster Leader, Plaid) said that £7.2m a day could be saved by bringing the troops home from Afghanistan.
Anne McIntosh (Con, Thirsk & Malton) asked about the too-early release of patients from hospital necessitating their re-admittance and also the "post-code lottery" of NHS healthcare.
Stephen Hepburn (Labour, Jarrow) about Siemens closing in his constituency and transferring production to France and Germany despite "a full order book and healthy profits".
Adam Holloway (Con, Gravesham) asked for the per household level of debt.
Barry Gardiner (Lab, Brent North) about funding for school children in poorer constituencies.
Graham Brady (Con, Altrincham & Sale West) about next week's budget supporting savers.
Luciana Berger (Lab Co-op, Liverpool Wavertree) about the cancellation of courses at the local uni.
Harriet Baldwin (Con, West Worcestershire) praised the PM (drawing cheers and jeers) and invited him to the opening of a new community hospital.  This is the question which elicted the joke from Cameron and gales of laughter from Bercow.
David Lammy (Lab, Tottenham) invited Cameron to walk with him from Seven Sisters Rd up to White Hart Lane to see all the betting shops.  Better wear a stab vest.

And that was it.  I won't be doing the full list of backbenchers' questions next week - I only did it to show how many questions are actually asked in this new and speedy PMQs as opposed to under the ponderous, time-wasting Brown.  There is one thing I'd like to know but the cameras aren't allowed to show it - who is the Labour fishwife who interrupted and heckled three times?  There's always one and she seems to be it at the moment.


Part 2
Part 3
With thanks to Swiss Bob at the Daily Politics for the videos.

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