For the second time in three weeks, a LibDem asked the first question at Prime Minister’s Question time. Bob Russell asked, first of all, for the PM to list his engagements for the day. As usual, there was the same response as there has been for virtually every week since Noah was in short trousers. “This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others and, in addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.” Same question, same answer, every blinking week. It is hard not to have a mite of sympathy with the departing MP Gerry Adams’ disdain for the “antiquated and bizarre” procedures of our Parliament. Mind you, I should call Mr. Adams by his correct title: “The Lord High keeper of the Queen’s left garter”… Well, it’s something like that.
Bob’s second question expressed concern that “some local authorities and health trusts are using the perceived cuts as an excuse to make cuts, thus undermining voluntary organisations and charities with the big society concept.”
David Cameron agreed, saying that the health budget is going up and that some local authorities are yet to make convincing moves to cut bureaucracy and ‘share chief executives”. OK, Cameron, let’s share you with France and see how you like doing two jobs! I’m sure you’d enjoy sorting out the failure of the olive harvest in Languedoc while dealing with unemployment in Glasgow.
The head-to-head with Miliband started with rare agreement on Afghanistan and Egypt. No Punch and Judy here. We did learn that Asquith is our man in Egypt. Dominic, that is. And we did learn that both Cameron and Miliband want an orderly transition to democracy. Just to be on the safe side, Miliband asked the same question twice. Well, see for yourself. It’s difficult to put a Rizla between them:
“May I ask the Prime Minister whether he agrees with President Obama that the stable and orderly transition to democracy must be meaningful, peaceful and begin now?”
“Is it not now apparent that the best route to stability in Egypt is precisely through democracy?
He’s only got six questions a week. What on earth was the idea of this new strategy of asking the same one twice, especially as he must have known that it would have just given Cameron a chance to drone on about democracy in a statesmanlike way?
But as if that was not enough droning accord, Miliband then went back to the first subject of violent agreement, Afghanistan. He asked Cameron to give his assessment of the situation. What the hell is going on? This is like those first television interviews when a fawning interviewer asked Harold Macmillan what thoughts he would like to share with the nation.
On Afghanistan, Cameron talked about “pursuing a political track to reintegrate those who have been involved in insurgency”. Miliband then asked whether the PM agreed that motherhood went well with apple pie. “Yes indeed, especially with custard on top and I am most grateful for the Right Honourable Gentleman’s question” said the PM before going off into a diatribe on soft pastry for two paragraphs. OK, I’m sorry. It was all important stuff, but it was hardly putting Cameron on the back foot.
“I sense that people are not used to this kind of Prime Minister’s questions” – Miliband finally said. Too right. Cameron replied “From all the noises off, it is clear that people would prefer a bun fight, but sometimes it is sensible to have a serious conversation about the issues that we face”. I happen to agree. It was just a bit of a surprise, that’s all. Well done Cameron and Miliband anyway. But it is not the seriousness of the conversation that was the problem. Surely, given such huge topics as the entire Arab world in turmoil and the war in Afghanistan, Miliband could have found some points to tax the Prime Minister on, could he not?
Other snippets were:
- The Milicam love-in was bookended by two East Anglian LibDem MPs: Bob Russell (as above) and Simon Wright, who called for a start to the dualling of the A11.
- Nick Clegg has written to the Prime Minister to suggest that local authorities are given the power to raise their own fuel duty.
- Ronnie Campbell (Labour) suggested that the government is building up a “£50 billion election war chest” at the expense of “vulnerable, hard-working people”. It wasn’t denied.
- Ed Balls is a ‘deficit denier’.
- Here’s a laugh. If I am not mistaken, Zac Goldsmith asked his first PMQs question. He’s the MP for Richmond Park. So obviously he’d ask about some locally relevant topic wouldn’t he? Er……well is “fish discards” the issue on the lips of land-locked Richmond Park residents? But don’t get me wrong, it’s a very important issue. The Fisheries Minister, my own self-confessed “landlubber” MP for landlocked Newbury, Richard Benyon is currently working on it, in between urgently learning fish charts after a recent battering in a “fish quiz” by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Well, he just about recognised cod. And it was 5am.