The weekly political pantomime, better known as PMQs, returned to our screens in rather docile fashion, following the winter break. The first session of 2014 was far more reserved than the usual bout of poor banter, terrible jokes, and heaving gladiatorial combat the very few viewers have grown to expect, instead transpiring in a constructive manner throughout. In other words: Who are they, and what have they done with our politicians?
The solace was partially due to the sudden passing of Paul Goggins to which the house united in paying tribute. The early exchanges were filled with additional sentiment for the victims of the Norfolk helicopter crash, and captain Richard Hollway, setting a sombre tone which overshadowed proceedings. The state of the flooding crisis passed unusually without attempt to score political points, while a determinist plan was forged between the two party leaders.
Diane Abbott’s query into families losing their housing benefit spurred familiar caws from the backbenches, and sparked a rather docile Prime Minister into Labour-bashing action. But then Ed Miliband’s subsequent question regarding fixed odd betting terminals saw himself and David Cameron come together once again in agreement, albeit briefly, before Cameron fell back to a platinum classic blamist strategy; arguing that Labour’s deregulatory gambling policy had in part led to the boost of betting shops. Note: as Tom Watson MP has since pointed out, the PM may have unwittingly misled the House on this one.
A further misstep arose when a question put forward by Jennie Abrahams, regarding £1.8bn cuts in social care leading to an increase of £740 pa for homeshare charges, was met with something of a non-answer. Cameron reiterated that “difficult decisions” were necessary, before claiming some of the health budget had been placed into the £3bn of social care to help local authorities. Similarly, the Prime Minister refused to say whether osborne’s £12bn benefits cuts would affect the sick and disabled.
The remainder of the session passed largely without controversy. Nick Robinson suggested the approach may be the first in a new breed of statesman-like PMQs, and entertained the possibility that a truce was agreed beforehand. The notion of a truce sounds interesting, considering the number of subjects that were completely overlooked by the opposition (particularly the NY honours, DWP crisis). Personally, I’d like to believe our leaders’ minds and bodies were hijacked by a race of aliens keen on promoting common sense and rational debate across the galaxy. Whether they can refrain from falling to their usual ways seems highly unlikely. Bercow shouldn’t expect to have such a quiet afternoon in future.
Most audacious statement
David Cameron remarked on having “sorted out” the “problems in the banking industry” during the fixed odd betting terminals segment drew the loudest chorus of heckles. Many, of course, would argue the banking situation is far from ideal, despite a recent return to moneymaking. The Prime Minister first remarked on Labour’s deregulation of drinking laws, gambling laws, and finally the banking sector.
Best put down
When challenged with a colourfully-phrased question from John Mann, regarding policing cuts in the Bassetlaw area:
“I now discover that police are having to patrol villages using public transport. Which begs the question I’d like to ask the Prime Minister. If the police are waiting at a bus stop having arrested someone. Should they go upstairs. Should they go downstairs. Or should they not arrest at all?”
David Cameron responded in fine form, citing a 27 per cent reduction crime before refuting:
“Frankly this is like back to the future Mr Speaker. We are back now to where we were three years ago when we said you’ve got to make difficult decisions, you’ve got to make some cuts, you’ve got to get the deficit down, and they lived in total denial. They are back to where they were three years ago. It may be the new year, but it’s the same old Labour party.”
Most colourful soundbite
Ian Davidson, Scottish Labour Co-operative MP, stole the show at the close with an entertaining monologue, drawing cackles and laughs from all corners of the House.
“Does the Prime Minister agree with me, that in politics as in ship building, that an empty vessel makes the most noise. Hey. I’m not finished. There is more. Without seeking to give offense to the Prime Minister, the last person Scotts who support the ‘No’ campaign want to have as their representative, is a Tory toff from the Home counties. Even one with a fine haircut.”
The statement was in regards the Prime Minister’s support for the campaign against Scottish Independence. David Cameron had previously been criticised for declined to debate with the leader of the ‘Yes’ campaign live on TV.
Man of the match
David Cameron coasted through a watered-down assault, firing counterattack upon counterattack, despite a number of suspect (yet unrefuted) claims. The Prime Minister was not in full joke-reeling, soundbite-blasting form, but took advantage of the few opportunities presented, while a lack of conviction from the opposition (the ammunition was certainly there) ensured there was not much the PM could realistically falter on. The recent crisis at the DWP, for instance, was left unmentioned.
Dick of the day
The award undoubtedly belongs to Simon Burns MP, who hijacked the Prime Minster’s early tribute to the late Paul Goggins in order to promote the coalition’s economic policy. The MP tried to ignite the propaganda machine during an apolitical, poignant segment regarding the recent loss less than two minutes into the session.