"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, 30 June 2010

PMQs: Verdict

I don't think there's much to write home about this week except that it was notable for there being no roll of honour from Cameron.

When Labour was in government it was evident that they didn't listen to any views other than their own; their heads nodded, their mouths said yes but their actions proved them liars and manipulators. It's interesting to see them in Opposition after 13yrs because they're just the same but more vocal and aggressive. They still have their fingers in their ears, they still hear what they want to hear and still think that talking over someone & shouting louder is somehow 'winning' the debate. For Labour it's always about scoring points whilst ignoring the evidence and blaming someone else.

As for the LibServatives, once we've all fully recovered from the shock of hearing a pacey and well-articulated PMQs we can concentrate more on the content. It's not looking good.

The first question today was from Kevin Brennan (Lab, Cardiff West): Is the reason he wants to put fewer criminals in jail to do with cutting crime or cutting budgets?

Cameron: What this govt wants to do is clear up the complete mess of the criminal justice system left by the Labour Party. each prison place today costs £45k yet 40% of prisoners are back in prison within a year. More than half of them are on drugs and around 10% of them are foreign national prisoners who shouldn't be here in the first place.

Nadine Dorries (Con, Mid-Bedfordshire) asked that local people be given a say on the proposal by an American company to build an incinerator 'the size of Wembley' in her constituency.

Harman asked whether the estimated figure of 1.3m job losses as a result of the Budget was produced by Treasury officials.

Cameron: The honourable lady should know [interrupted by Labour heckling, already] ... I will give a surprisingly full answer if they just sit patiently. This morning the OBR produced the full tables for the Budget for employment in the public and private sector. This is something that never happened under a Labour government. As shown in the budget, unemployment is forecast to fall every year under this government but it also does show public sector employment and what's interesting from the tables is you can see the effect of Labour's policy before the budget and you can see the effect of our policy after the budget. What the figures show is that, under Labour's plans, next year there would be 70,000 fewer public sector jobs and the year after that there would be 150,000 fewer public sector jobs. The reason is we've had the courage to have a two-yr pay freeze. I know we've all been watching the football but that's a spectacular own goal.

Harman was having none of this of course. She was sandwiched between a rather self-satisfied Darling and a somewhere-over-the-rainbow Shaun Woodward who only raised his chin occasionally to intone 'yeah, yeah, from time to time. Harman persisted in asking why the PM wouldn't publish "hidden" Treasury documents, she spoke of "abject misery"  [to 'hard-working families'] and asked how much extra would be spent on unemployment benefit.

Cameron referred her to the OBR, "independent from the government" and told them to stop "chuntering about it". 

Osborne, who I understand has sinus problems [ahem] hence his unfortunate tendency to look pretty vacant as he catches flies, sprang to life as if in disbelief that anyone could possibly be as thick as the honourable members opposite. The Americans have a word for something that isn't what it appears to be - 'cute' - and that's what Osborne is. I used to have a 'cute' car - it didn't look particularly fast but you know what stripey, go-faster boys can be like when they see a blond in something unusual. They didn't know it was fibre glass and couldn't see what was under the bonnet: it always gave me immense girly pleasure to leave them standing.

Back to poor George - his expression as Cameron explains the OBR to Harman & Co is a picture and I think that's part of the reason I still like him - he hasn't mastered the politician's trick of making a mask of his face.  He's somehow childlike and open in his facial responses when he's off-guard. It doesn't seem to have clicked with him that by sitting to the left of Cameron at PMQs he's on constant show and I'll regret the day that it does.

Clegg wasn't particularly animated in this session, in fact he's been pretty subdued throughout, as if he's missing the limelight of the Leaders' Debates. He allows himself a wry smile from time to time but usually he just looks squashed and glum - the smile never reaches the eyes. I'm surprised because I'd have thought Clegg & the LibDems had more reasons than most to be cheerful. I look at what the Conservatives have watered-down or back-tracked on to date and I think I have more reason than Clegg to wish I was far, far away with a cushy number in Brussels and a haughty disdain for my fellow man.

Harman pointed out that the Treasury had less money coming in and more money going out - she blamed the Budget but that's how it was with Labour before the election, they just haven't had to admit it.  I've never known a politicial party so relieved to lose a General Election and another so reluctant to win an outright majority.

There was quite a bit of banter, exasperation and footballing euphemisms - "from peaceniks to peacepods", Darling's words were thrown back at him, "slotted into the back of the net".   Keep an eye out for what Cameron disdainfully and ingrammatically called, "the stupidest piece of spending", ie  a £2.4m refurbishment of Harriet's own department incl. £72k each on "2-storey meeting pods known as peace-pods".

Are there any lip-readers out there?  At approx 04.37 in Video 3 when Meacher asks why 'bankers and the super-rich' aren't losing their jobs what does Cameron say to Osborne (my best guess at the moment is 'wtf is this?' ) and what's Osborne's response?


Is your MP here?

Backbench questions included homecoming parades, debt & deficit, unemployment; prison sentences; student visas;  'in-care' children, Sheffield Forgemasters; Afghanistan withdrawal;  care of our AF wounded ;  paediatric care in the NHS;  hospice funding; the importance of international aid; the bank levy;  the UN's Children's Day;  any cuts in Scotland to be brought before the Scotland Committee at Westminster:

Steve Brine (Con, Winchester);  John Cryer (Lab, Leyton & Wanstead); Julian Sturdy (Con, York Outer);  George Howarth (Lab, Knowsley);  Stephen Lloyd (LibDem, Eastbourne); Megg Munn ( Labour Co-op, Sheffield Heeley); Gary Streeter (Con, SW Devon); Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion);  Mark Lancaster (Con, Milton Keynes North);  Kate Green ( Lab Stretford & Urmston); Charlie Elphicke ( Con, Dover) (ruled out of order);  Elizabeth Kendall (Lab, Leicester West);  Robin Walker (Con, Worcester);  Gordon Banks (Lab, Ochil & South Perthshire); Tony Baldry (Con, Banbury); Michael Meacher (Lab, Oldham West & Royton); Annette Brooke (LibDem, Dorset Mid & Poole North); Michael Connarty (Lab, Linlithgow & Falkirk East);  Matthew Hancock (Con, West Suffolk) [one to watch];  Graham Jones (Lab, Hyndburn).

Bercow intervened quite a few times but mainly to tell b/benchers to keep their questions brief.  At the end of PMQs he also ruled that  the Home Secretary had been out of order in releasing key details to the press before they were presented to the House.  Theresa May stood up, "deeply regretted the fact" and apologised to the House.  I don't recollect the previous government doing that.

Other 'points of order' followed which weren't points of order at all - merely a way of bringing attention to a perceived grievance.  Michael Connarty (Lab, Linlithgow & Falkirk East), to his credit, did raise the question of the still non-existent European Scrutiny Committee.  Apparently there are five Labour MPs lined up to sit on the committee.  Bercow is sometimes his own worst enemy - he plays games with words and is then needlessly upset.  He offered no solution beyond saying that all committees were important committees.  I'm again losing the will to live in the face of politics - who knows when the European Scrutiny Committee will be re-convened?






Videos courtesy of the Daily Politics

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