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 exchange of views on a subject. Harriet Harman was basically saying that frontline policing would be impacted by the 20% cuts, citing Greater Manchester Police’s situation. David Cameron was basically trying the old “Teflon shoulders” technique, saying it was up to the Police to sort themselves out without impacting frontline policing. He did back this up with some impressively prepared numbers.

Did you know that only 11% of police staff are on the street (or “frontline”) at any one time?

Did you know that Greater Manchester Police have the following departmental staff numbers: HR: 187, Fleet vehicle maintenance: 106, Finance: 106, IT: 225 ?

So David Cameron’s whizzy (and not implausible) idea is for staff to be moved “from the back office to the front office”.

So the next time the wheels are falling off police cars, the next time more police are off sick because they’ve been mistreated, the next time police aren’t paid on time and the next time the police can’t respond to emergencies because their computers crash – Blame Cameron.

Other items that got drawn into this melee were:

Some killer (or should that be suicidal?) quote from Alan Johnson which escaped my longhand.

Why is the government proposing to spend £100 million on implementing elected police commissioners when they are forcing 20% cuts on the police? A good point, well made.

The government are scrapping Stop and search reporting, and other reporting, which Labour insisted on continuing, saving 750,000 hours of police time (if my notes don’t deceive me).

Harman said that Cameron was “posing” as being high on probity in the public finance area. She said he knew all about “posing” – referring to his vanity photographer with the most rapidly shifting monthly pay cheque source in the country.

To this, fresh back from China after all. Cameron seemed to slip into Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado: “ I’ve got a little list” (he almost said).

That list is obviously at the back of Cameron’s folder in a red envelope marked “Open in emergencies”. On it, are written all the embarrassments of NuLabour; Damien McBride, Alastair Campbell, Dodgy Dossiers, Sexing ups and, of course, naturellement, Ruth MacKenzie. (Who she? – Ed)

At this point the Speaker intervened to say, very deliberately and slowly, that this session is for “Questions and Answers about government policy”. Well said, Sally’s hubby.

Other snippets:

  • Liberal Democrat Stephen Gilbert raised the dire floods in the St Austell area overnight and asked the PM to reassure his constituents that there would be central government help now and in the aftermath of the disaster.
  • Did you know that the latest employment figures were favourable? If you listened to PMQs, you would have heard David Cameron mention it three times – he had it on a sort of tape loop.
  • On behalf of skill-starved businesses, Liberal Democrat Malcolm Bruce asked when the criteria for the Visa and Immigration caps would be announced. Answer came there none.
  • Labour is getting £1 million of Short money and Cameron asked them to hand it back.
  • Vince Cable’s quote about the dismantling of the Regional Development Agencies being “Maoist and chaotic” was replayed to the House by Bridget Phillipson (Labour). Cameron said this is “not his view” (i.e not Cable’s view) because he is carrying out the change.
  • Saga and Harry Potter are booming.
  • Brian Donohoe, Labour, asked if David Cameron would visit Ayrshire (to witness the highest unemployment in Scotland in Irvine). Sometime never, said Cameron. But he did promise “faster wheelchairs” though.
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    18 Comments

    • What’s up with the “Number 4” closed question?

    • Two points:

      1) No thinking person should be at all surprised by the statistic that, “only 11% of police staff are on the street (or “frontline”) at any one time”. Assuming the average police officer works an 8 hour shift for 5 days a week and is allowed five or so weeks holiday plus bank holidays a year, plus some time for training, court appearances, sick leave, etc, then even with zero non-frontline staff employed the figure would only work out at around 20% or so. Do the maths! (In fact the maths was worked through in a recent edition of the excellent BBC Radio 4 programme ‘More or Less’, which should be compulsory listening for all politicians.)

      2) In the context of Visa and Immigration caps you mention “skill-starved businesses”. The Liberal Democrats should not be pandering to these skinflint businesses by enabling them to import cheap labour from overseas (that may have experience in some specific skill) rather than recruiting from the large pool of available and well qualified local labour and providing training in the specialised skills that are required. This is particularly true in the IT and engineering sectors where unemployment levels for recent UK graduates are high because “skill-starved businesses” find it cheaper and easier to simply recruit staff from overseas rather than give fresh UK graduates a chance of gaining employment. It is a disgrace that the Lib Dems are, in effect, colluding with such businesses to offload (perfectly reasonable) training costs onto the public purse (in terms of unemployment payments) whilst leaving a generation of UK graduates unable to find work. The Visa and Immigration caps should be set extremely low so as to force greedy “skill-starved businesses” to recruit locally and proved whatever specialised training is necessary (and to reduce population growth in the UK to a more rational level that is ecologically sustainable).

    • Ah, I see that Mark Reckons made the first of my points (more succinctly than I managed) whilst I was typing my complete comment.

    • Also, final sentence should read “… to recruit locally and provide …”, and not “… to recruit locally and proved …”.

    • Last week in PMQs, Nick Clegg also said it was unacceptable that only 11% of police officers are on the street at any one time.

      They’re simply demonstrating their lack of experience, or lack of knowledge, to the public with these stupid statistics. They’re showing just how out of touch they really are. They add fuel to the argument that career politicians are one of the many problems in our democracy.

    • At last the speaker reminds the PM to answer the question. I think he knew this would be unpopuar with the Tory backbenches so did so at the end of the oppositions questions but perhaps next week will be better……

    • Compared to Gordon Brown both Cameron and Clegg always appear alarmingly ignorant and underbriefed. Such a pity today that none of the opposition asked Cameron any embarrassing questions about the Irish bail out crisis.

    • The Irish economy should worry anyone blindly convinced by the Osborne strategy of hard and fast cuts. Just because it’s hurting doesn’t mean it’s working. Ireland did everything the IMF asked of them and more in their austerity measures. We now see the disasterous result as well as Osborne generously offering to pay billions to the Irish banks.

    • @LDV Bob

      Do you think it is a coincidence that every call the IMF has made about economies in the last 30 has been wrong, and that the only measures that have been effective in countering recession and depression have been broadling keynesian?

      I don’t.

      It would be great if someone could give me an example of a country successfully recovering from a recession or a depression using the austerity measures the UK and Ireland have been using.

    • @LDV Bob

      I agree. Osborne’s plan at the start of the financial crisis was cuts. Fortunately he was shadow chancellor at the time, so it didn’t happen. Ireland did implement the Osborne plan, and unemployment shot up. 4.5% to 14% if I recall correctly . Low tax didn’t do them any good either. Most analysts suggest their unemployment is heading towards 18%, even though people have been deserting the Republic every month. You cannot have a cuts-driven strategy that puts people out of work at a time when the private sector is in poor shape. People are assets and we should be using them to best effect until the private sector can take up the slack. Germany had the right idea. They cut hours – not jobs. And look at them now.

    • @nj
      Thank you for this information on Ruth MacKenzie. I really think this will need to be put right by Cameron. Of all the people to accuse of being under-qualified it appears he chose to publically embarass someone hugely qualified for the job in question who still has the support of the current Minister.

      Of course of he feels John Major incorrectly awarded an OBE and that her years of public service were simply due to he political views he should now back this up with more than sarcasm.

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