Category Archives: PMQs

PMQs: The nodding donkey and the nasal twang have left the building

It is interesting how voice quality can make all the difference at Prime Minister’s Questions.

Ed Miliband seems to have swallowed several family packs of Tunes lozenges. His voice sounded unusually clear yesterday, without its normal nasal twang. Combined with a disciplined debating approach, this led to a commanding performance (up to a point – of which more later).

David Cameron, in contrast, was sounding slightly hoarse. Perhaps he over-indulged in Russian hospitality in some shape or form. The problem with being hoarse at PMQs is that you end up shouting to compensate. That makes it worse and, red-faced, you give …

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PMQs: Nadine Dorries leaves the PM speechless

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PMQs: The tectonic plates shift

Oh, what a joy to be Leader of the Opposition at times like these!

Prime Minister’s Questions today was certainly one of the most important this year. David Cameron has been in a sort of partial purdah for the last few days, no doubt preparing his answers. What we got was quite a substantial exposition of the response to what I’ll call, for the purposes of brevity, “Murdochgate”.

The exchange between Cameron and Miliband started with a large degree of agreement. Indeed, it was almost as if the PM had pulled the rug from under the Leader of the opposition by …

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PMQs: Since when is the NHS a “micro” issue?

A bit of a surprise at Prime MInister’s Questions. I expected Ed Miliband to ask about public sector pensions and the strike tomorrow. It was a bit odd when he asked about the NHS. Cameron later said that Miliband couldn’t fire off questions on the strikes subject “because he is in the pocket of the unions.” He also rather cheaply accused Miliband of fighting shy of Greece “because his plan is to make Britain like Greece.”

Then, Cameron reach his climax with a line which must have been honed over much midnight oil in Downing Street:

He has to talk about

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PMQs: Bits start to fall off Cameron’s wagon

After last week’s Miliband success at Prime Minister’s Questions, this time we started off with Ed Miliband in softly softly mode. He asked about Libya and the service chiefs’ concern about an extended campaign. Displaying a becoming measure of gravitas, he also asked whether the defence review should be revisited in the light of the “Arab Spring” which William Hague has described as more important than 9-11. That’s a good question given that the review didn’t mention Libya, Tunisia or Egypt.

David Cameron said he has been assured by the military grand fromage that we could keep the campaign going as …

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PMQs: Listen very carefully, I shall wave this shroud only five times

Someone must have told Ed Miliband that he shouldn’t flit around, butterfly-like, between subjects at Prime Minister’s Questions. He did that last week and got a caning for it. So this week he was doggedly persistent – monomaniac even – on just one subject. Indeed, just one question. He repeated the same words over and over and over and over again. The impression was that he had gone from the sublime to the ridiculous, but it worked and he ostensibly wrong-footed David Cameron.

Ed Miliband said that the government’s welfare reform plans would make 7,000 cancer sufferers worse off by up …

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PMQs: Pots, kettles, medians and Erskine May

Pity poor old Ken Clarke. When your own side are saying you are too old for the job, then you know things are bad. Phillip Hollobone (Con) asked at Prime Ministers’ Questions why magistrates have to retire at 70 years old while the man who appoints them, the Justice Secretary – Clarke, is 71 years old. With friends like that….

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PMQs: Broadcast the Prime Ministerial Test Card

He’s been one of the safest pairs of ministerial hands over decades. But he dropped a serious brick during a Five Live interview this morning. Then he wouldn’t answer his phone even when it was Number Ten trying to urgently contact him. Then the Leader of the Opposition called for his sacking at Prime Minister’s Questions. Then Number 10 went ballistic and sent him out to do another round of media interviews to try to mitigate the damage. It was quite a day in the life of one Rt. Hon Kenneth Harry “Ken” Clarke QC MP.

When the Prime Minister has …

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PMQs: The bread rolls fly thick and fast

One of the things which Ed Miliband does right at Prime Minister’s Questions, is to start with short, straight-forward questions. He’s obviously realized this is a good ploy, as he does it invariably. Today’s shorty was: “A year into his Government, how would the Prime Minister rate his handling of the NHS?”

It’s taken a while for David Cameron to work out how best to answer these shorties. He started by waffling like billy-o, tying himself up in knots. Then he tried a short reply and came a cropper there as well. So now he goes middle for diddle with a …

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PMQs: Calm down dear, Lansley’s going through the slow shredder

During an answer on the NHS, David Cameron made his now infamous “Calm down, dear” remark to Angela Eagle (available via Channel4News on YouTube). He followed it up with the words “Calm down” repeated several times, including to “the most annoying man in politics” (Cameron’s words), Ed Balls. It was a relatively inconsequential, if ill-advised, remark. However, I don’t get the “it’s a joke from an ad” defence here. The full catchphrase is “Calm down dear – it’s a commercial”. “Calm down, dear” on its own is only half a catchphrase.

The reason why the remark is, quite rightly, causing …


DPMQs: By golly, by gosh, he’s finally getting the hang of this

Nick Clegg at last seems to be finding his feet at Deputy Prime Minister’s Question Time. He is treating facetious Labour questions with the dismissive brevity they deserve. He is taking them head on. For example, when Labour’s John Spellar asked a particularly smart-arsed question, Nick Clegg replied with “I cannot be bothered to answer that question.” It seemed a very appropriate response.

I thought Clegg dealt with Harriet Harman’s questions very well. She asked about the Educational Maintenance Allowance and University funding. On the latter point, Clegg replied that there are still two or three months to go before the …


PMQs: Handbags and put-downs

It’s funny how a simple statement of congratulations on a planned wedding can’t be accepted in the Commons without a “handbag moment” (see Reeves/Mortimer) dredging up twenty year-old events. Ed Miliband thanked David Cameron for his congratulations adding “I might have to come to him in the next couple of months for advice, because I know that he knows how to organise memorable stag nights.” Ooooh!

Handbags having been safely stowed, Ed Miliband raised the matter of the stampede of British universities to join the “£9,000 club”. Cameron replied that the Office for Fair Access will decide on which universities can …


PMQs: PIP or pip-squeak?

This week Prime Minister’s Questions contained a discussion of the military action in Libya. The need for Arab involvement in the task force was emphasized. Ed Miliband asked for David Cameron to clarify the position on the targeting of Colonel Gaddafi. The Prime Minister didn’t clarify it.

Ed Miliband then made a good point which David Cameron tersely swotted aside with worrying brevity. Miliband asked why the government is taking away the mobility component of the disability living allowance for those in care homes. That sounds a bit convoluted but if you look here you can read what it means …


PMQs: Will the LibDem motion on the NHS make any difference? – Will it ‘eck as like

I do like Ed Miliband’s short opening questions. They always get David Cameron tied up in a convoluted response. This week it was: “Following the Liberal Democrat conference at the weekend, is the Prime Minister planning any new amendments to his Health and Social Care Bill?”

The government is “anti-cherry-picking” was Cameron’s (very) abridged reply. He was a day early for DEFRA questions (warf, warf).
Ed Miliband repeated his question to “give the Prime Minister another go at answering”.

No “Cherry picking”, no “price competition”, reform and “extra money”, said Cameron. Get away from “pre-scripted questions” he said. Miliband replied that Cameron should …


PMQs: Libya sits on Hague’s head like a baseball cap

Ed Miliband boot the put in at Prime Minister’s Questions this week, regarding the string of cock-ups on the Libyan front, presided over by one William Hague, Foreign Secretary of this parish.

He said: “We have had the flights fiasco, talk of Colonel Gaddafi heading to Venezuela when he was not, overblown briefing about potential military action, and the setback last weekend.”

All in all, Libya is starting to rank alongside baseball caps in the list of things William Hague should leave well off his CV.

“We have an excellent Foreign Secretary” was finally squeezed out of Cameron by way of “support” for …


PMQs: Miliband nukes Cameron

Ed Miliband used his first three questions, at this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions, in stimulating a very earnest explanation of what the UK is doing about the crisis in Libya. This also addressed why RAF personnel are being made redundant at the very moment we need the RAF to be on stand-by to maintain a No fly zone over Libya.

Ed Miliband’s fourth question nuked the Prime Minister. Cameron didn’t have an answer. It was stunning: The Government “are adamant that there is no need for cuts in local authority front-line services. Can he therefore explain why Conservative-run Bromley council is …


DPMQS: baiting Mister Mañana

We are told that Nick Clegg acts as “Flashman’s fag”. The system also means that the Deputy Prime Minister has his own gofer. His name is Mark Harper. So when the speaker calls “Questions for the Deputy Prime Minister” we have the surreal spectacle of Mr. Harper answering the first two questions. Being a good liberal though, Nick Clegg doesn’t seem to have got the hang of the fagging system and Mr. Harper ends up taking the easy questions, at least in the case of the first one today. It was from a Tory, Gavin Barwell pointing out the discrepancies …


PMQs: Flashman can’t resist putting the Clegg-shined boot in

Individual cases of unfortunate citizens are often brought up at Prime Minister’s Questions. A very powerful example of this was the subject of the first question today from John Mann (Labour). He cited the case of Gladys Hunt, whose care home fees have recently gone up by the staggering amount of £400 a week. Cameron replied that an extra £2 billion is going into adult care and that he’ll look into Mrs Hunt’s case.

Unusually, a Conservative MP raised the next question about a constituent in dire straits. This was Millie d’Cruz, who suffers from metachromatic leukodystrophy, and whose family …

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PMQs: Cameron’s wheels start falling off

For the third week out of the last four, a Liberal Democrat asked the first question at Prime Minister’s Questions. This is turning into a tradition! Yay! This week it was the turn of Roger Williams to go through the charade of asking the PM for an entirely predictable list of his engagements for the day. Rather cleverly, albeit interrupted by some harrying from the Speaker, Roger manage to squeeze in two points: a) the key role played by the Sennybridge ranges and the infantry battle school in his constituency and b) a question about foreign students and universities: “Can …

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PMQs: The Pillsbury Doughboy takes on Motherhood and Apple pie – and loses

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 …

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PMQs: Miliband goes all Ballsy

Good Lord! Ed Miliband and David Cameron actually agreed on something. They agreed that yesterday’s growth figures were “disappointing”. They even agreed that if you set aside the bad weather impact, the figures were flat over the last quarter. An amazing level of agreement at PMQs! Unheard of!

Miliband asked about the causes of the disappointing figures. Cameron pointed to the UK’s large deficit and the large banking boom and bust. Ed Miliband then asked Cameron to confirm that he still thinks we are “out of the danger zone” (Cameron’s words from 15th December). We are no longer linked with PIG (Portugal, Ireland, Greece), said Cameron.

After Cameron said “If you do not deal with your debts, you will never have growth”, Ed Miliband came back with “If you do not have growth, you will never cut the deficit.” That has to be his best rejoinder ever at PMQs. Cameron dealt with that, however, by quoting the head of the OECD: “if you don’t deal with the deficit you can be assured that there will not be growth because confidence will not recover”.

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PMQs: Pot-shot Miliband, a hand grenade, and some calming poetry

Wow! A Liberal Democrat MP asked the first question at Prime Minister’s Questions this week.

Andrew George spoke in English, rather than Cornish – which he has been known to speak in the Commons chamber. (Well, all right then, it was only for his maiden speech, I grant you). Anyway, Andrew’s question implied some scepticism about the government’s NHS reform plans, saying it involved a “gamble” which might give “private companies the easy pickings”.

Ed Miliband picked up the PM on the disappointing unemployment figures, especially those for youths. He said they were caused by the government “cutting too far …


DPMQs: Nick Clegg looks forward to Mañana

The LDV Collective have asked me to add the monthly Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions to my radar screen. When these sessions started they seemed rather manufactured and unnecessary. However, they have evolved into an important part of the Commons’ calendar, covering a wide range of key issues. They are of interest especially for those of us in the Liberal Democrats who are interested in hearing what Nick Clegg has to say in his official capacity, under scrutiny from MPs, in a mercifully Flashman-free environment.

But this will never be like Prime Minister’s Question Time. The chamber is only about a …

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PMQs: Who’d be a Prime Minister?

Prime Minister’s Question time is getting rather repetitive. But by hook and by crook, Ed Miliband is determinedly clawing his way forward. Today’s was quite an impressive performance from the Opposition leader. He is obviously doing his homework. He certainly gets an “E” for effort.

Cameron’s snarling responses continue rather gratuitously, albeit leavened with some good points.
Today’s session was dominated by banking. Miliband attacked Cameron for breaking promises on bankers’ pay, bank taxation and transparency. It is all Labour’s fault that the government can’t stop large RBS pay awards – they wrote the contract, riposted Cameron.

There then followed a points draw …


PMQs: The Coronation of Basil Brush

There was all the seasonal fun of the pantomime thrown in to Prime Minister’s Questions today: “Broad brush”, “Air brush”, “Basil Brush” (Cameron’s description of Miliband) – the coalition leadership depicted as the pantomime horse and, of course, “Look behind you”. It was all there.

Ed Miliband in special sotto voce mode, asked about the unemployment increase of 35,000 saying that, with this, Cameron’s claims of being “out of the danger zone” seem “very hollow”. Cameron went on about something called the Work Programme and said claimants were down and vacancies were up.

Miliband (reverting to his bunged-up “Choones” voice) said that …

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PMQs: A points draw amidst chuntering, Morrissey and Mornington Crescent fun

Vince Cable lined up as a “bookend” for the Prime Minister at his question time today. One had a feeling, then, that university funding would be high on the agenda. And so it was.

In the first section of Q&A (with Ed Miliband) I think Miliband edged a points win – perhaps in decimal places. A “Rizla” win – a fag paper’s width between them.

Cameron failed to pick up Miliband on some obvious points. The opposition leader referred to English students likely to have the “highest tuition fees” in the world. But presumably that involves a comparison with tuition fees paid during study in other countries – rather than after graduation as in the case of the government’s proposals, which suggest “graduate contributions” rather than fees.
Miliband also referred to the system causing debt for graduates, but the system really can’t be described as instilling “debt” in the conventional sense. Cameron missed that one also.

In fact, Cameron only seemed to be warming up with Miliband but went on to score some corkers when Labour backbenchers asked further university funding questions.

Quite rightly Miliband highlighted the “80% cut” figure. He seemed more on top of his game this week and made an excellent joke:

Things are so bad that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) is offering his own unique solution to the votes tomorrow. He says that if you run quickly, you can vote both ways. I have to say that if the Kremlin were spying on the Liberal Democrats, we would know why: they want a bit of light relief.

Miliband quoted back David Davis on social mobility and the university funding plans. He also quoted back Cameron from last week “not so much waving but drowning”.

Cameron then gained a bit of composure with this rally (yes, it’s like tennis):

We are introducing a situation where nobody pays fees up front, including part-time students—which is 40% of students—and nobody pays anything back until they are earning £21,000. Under the new system, everyone will pay back less than they pay under the current system—They will pay back less every month; that is the case. The poorest will pay less, the richest will pay more. It is a progressive system, but the right hon. Gentleman has not got the courage of his convictions to back it.

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PMQs: The blank sheet of paper drowns – or at least gets decidedly soggy

We’re now getting an obligatory minimum of four mentions of the “blank sheet of paper” by David Cameron at each Prime Minister’s Questions session. I may be firing off prematurely, but Ed “Blank sheet” Miliband struggled today. Given the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast was generally sanguine, he had weak material to play with. But one wonders: who is he trying to kid?

Ed Miliband pointed out that the OBR say that unemployment will rise next year. This is because they’ve reduced their forecast for unemployment this year and left next year as it was. They’ve reduced the forecast of …


PMQs: Moustaches, strawberries and anoraks

There were signs this week that Prime Minister’s Questions was getting serious and considered at long last.

Ed Miliband asked a very anorakky question about the government taking away “all the funding from the highly successful school sport partnerships”

There followed an almost scholarly exchange of statistics which left me none the wiser. Miliband’s stats said Labour improved school sports. Cameron’s said they ruined it. Was Miliband right? Was Cameron right? It was beyond me. Except I did notice that Cameron seemed to be almost exclusively quoting figures on “competitive sports”. Ah. The old Tory Daily Mail rant. “Schools don’t do races …

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PMQS: Cameron promised faster wheels amidst squeaky bums

What a relief! For a change, Prime Minister’s Questions gave more cause for Tories to be uneasy than it did for LibDems. Don’t get me wrong, LibDems care passionately about frontline policing. Of course they do. But the Tories tend to see it as more of a cojones (or should I invent the adjective “cojonal” here?) measurement issue – it’s closer to the nerve with them. So I think there must have been a lot of uncomfortable shifting around on the benches behind David Cameron today. “Squeaky bum time”, as Sir Alex might put it.

For once there was a good …

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PMQs: Albatross! Albatross! Come and get your lovely Albatross!

Rarely, both the Prime Minister and the Opposition leader had reason to be absent from Prime Minister’s Questions today. So it was dear Harriet versus the Cleggster.

As an added twist, it turned into a “Higher Education Special”, in part spurred by the student demonstrations outside parliament as the session was unfolding. There were no less than ten questions on higher education. My, the Labour whips had been busy. Sadly this meant less time for the constituency issues often raised by MPs.

I witnessed the session live via Twitter, where Nick Clegg received a rather jaundiced reception – to put it mildly. When I look back on the video, it seems to me that Nick Clegg did a remarkably good job of what was probably the most difficult parliamentary session of his career. Indeed, he looked terrified beforehand, as Northern Irish questions overan.

Harman started by asking how Clegg’s April pledge to end university tuition fees was going.
Nick Clegg replied that:

..we have stuck to our wider ambition to make sure that going to university is done in a progressive way, so that people who are currently discouraged from going to university—bright people from poor backgrounds, who are discouraged by the system that we inherited from the right hon. and learned Lady’s Government—are able to do so. That is why our policy is more progressive than hers.

Harman said he hoped he’d tell that to the protestors outside and quoted him saying that fees of £7000 would be a “disaster” – so how would he describe fees of £9,000?

Nick Clegg said that there was a consensus that graduates should pay some contribution and added:
The proposals that we have put forward will mean that those who earn the least will pay much less than they do at the moment—while those who earn the most will pay over the odds to provide a subsidy to allow people from poor backgrounds to go to university—and will, for the first time, end the discrimination against the 40% of people in our universities who are part-time students, who were so shamefully treated by her Government.

Harman, rightly, said that none of the Labour party agree with fees of £9000 a year. I think Harman was spot on when she said that this is not about the deficit. It will be cleared by the time the new tuition fees scheme starts. It’s about the proportion of graduate (what she described wrongly as “student”) funding versus public funding. Clegg was rather disingenuous when he referred to a consensus that graduates should pay “some” contribution. The government plans implies 100% graduate funding in some cases and 80-90% graduate funding in many cases. That’s all but getting rid of public funding.

Harman threw an attempted joke in: “We all know what it is like, Mr Speaker. You are at Freshers’ week. You meet up with a dodgy bloke and you do things that you regret. Is not the truth of it that the Deputy Prime Minister has been led astray by the Tories?”
We all know what that is like do we, Hattie? Ummmm let me think. I didn’t actually meet any dodgy blokes in Freshers’ Week, personally. I spent most of my entire year at University trying to find a dodgy woman but, sadly, failed.

Clegg then had an excellent riposte to Harman’s general thrust:

I know that the right hon. and learned Lady now thinks that she can reposition the Labour party as the champion of students, but let us remember the Labour party’s record: against tuition fees in 1997, but introduced them a few months later; against top-up fees in the manifesto in 2001, then introduced top-up fees. Then Labour set up the Browne review, which it is now trashing, and now the Labour party has a policy to tax graduates that half the Front-Bench team does not even believe in. Maybe she will go out to the students who are protesting outside now and explain what on earth her policy is.

All in all, I thought Clegg did an excellent job of outlining the fairness of the coalition’s plan while obviously being on the back foot, due to going back on the promise.

But an emailer to BBC Live called Robert Taylor put it very well: “Nick Clegg is not breaking his promise to the electorate regarding tuition fees; the LibDems did NOT win the election – had they done so they would not have increased the fees thereby keeping their promise.”

Quite frankly, whatever Nick Clegg does or says on this topic, people will always associate him and the Liberal Democrats with “breaking their promise on tuition fees”.

We can argue until we’re blue in the face that it was a daft promise to make in the first place, that Labour introduced tuition fees and increased them, that politics is the art of the possible, that the government plan is progressive and (as John Hemming has ingeniously put it) “a graduate tax in all but name”.

But, whatever we do or say, still the Tuition Fees Albatross will remain around our necks and that of Nick Clegg in particular for at least a generation. So we need to get used to that.

And for Monty Python fans: no, it doesn’t come with any wafers.

The Albatross sketch from Monty Python:

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