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 charge £9,000 a year. He also neatly side-stepped Miliband’s charge that the stampede could mean further cuts in the government’s funding to universities.

We then returned to a subject previously aired at Prime Minister’s Questions: when is a plod a “frontline” plod? Answer: there’s a team of experts working on that one. However, Cameron introduced a new googly into the debate on this subject: “According to Home Office statistics, if all forces achieve the current best average for visibility and availability, it would increase the number of officers available by 8,000.” Wooo!

“Two thousand police officers are being forced out under the A19 rules” rebutted Miliband. You could hear a “whoosh” as this subject flew well over the top of most people’s heads.

Miliband ended with “we proposed 12% cuts in the policing budget; the Prime Minister is proposing 20% cuts. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary said that if we go beyond 12%, that is likely to lead to cuts in front-line officers, which is exactly what is happening up and down this country.” You can’t help but thinking that Miliband has more or less won this one. But it’s getting a trifle repetitive.

“The difference between a 12% reduction and what we are proposing is the freeze in police pay and the reform of police allowances, which he refuses to support” said Cameron. Not really a Tory-type policy that, is it? – Freezing police pay and “reforming” their allowances.

I thought Cameron then came back with a riposte which Miliband deserved: “Has anyone seen a more ridiculous spectacle than the right hon. Gentleman marching against the cuts that his Government caused? I know Martin Luther King said he had a dream—I think it is time the right hon. Gentleman woke up.”

Other snippets were:

  • Greg Mulholland (LibDem) asked about the children’s heart unit review.
  • Tenuouslinkwatch: David Amess tried to link Pontius Pilate to Ed Miliband addressing crowds in Hyde Park. But it got a good quality response from Cameron: “Far from standing on the shoulders of the suffragettes, or whatever nonsense we heard at the weekend, the fact is that the Leader of the Opposition is sitting in a great big pool of debt that was his creation, and he has got absolutely no idea what to do about it.”
  • Flashman put down of the week: From Cameron to Chris Williamson (Lab): “I cannot believe that I accused the hon. Gentleman of anything because I had absolutely no idea who he was.”
  • Sir Menzies Campbell (LibDem) raised the legal and political risks of arming rebels in Libya.
  • Even though Ed Balls didn’t say anything worthy of registering in Hansard, he managed to make a spectacle of himself, earning another Flasmanesque put-down: “I may be alone in finding the shadow Chancellor the most annoying person in modern politics.” Temper, temper.
  • Malcolm Bruce (LibDem) asked about investment in North Sea Oil, following the withdraw of £6 billion of funding by Statoil.
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16 Comments

  • I’m in two minds about Cameron’s putdown of Balls. On the one hand, Balls is pretty annoying and so why not point that out, but on the other hand I’ve seen plenty of congratulatory remarks about how by being irritating Balls managed to truly annoy Cameron, who is generally regarded as a smooth operator, and so please those who, perhaps, have not been as impressed at Edward Miliband’s ability to ruffle the PM’s feathers.

    Miliband is going to have trouble for a little while at least living down that speech of his though – it seems to be providing plenty of fodder for his opponents, rightly or wrongly.

  • The Balls put down would have been a good put down if Cameron actually answered questions (and I also think Balls is annoying!).

  • Away from the pantomime it seems Cameron may have got himself in a bit of bother with respect to certain inaccuracies in his replies on tuition fees.
    http://bit.ly/el7oCZ

    I don’t often feel sympathy to Cameron, but this is not a mess of his making, rather one of Vince Cable’s. The tuition fees issue is coming back and the lib dems need to answer the questions, again, of why they stood on a platform of no fees, trebled them once in power, and really screwed up the funding of HE to the point that the sector may well be irreparably damaged.

  • I will be publishing a CentreForum paper next week on how to get tuition fees down. @timleunig will announce the launch for those interested

  • There were also some inaccuracies in Ed’s comment on tuition fees: “Of the 23 universities that have announced so far, 18 will be charging the full amount. That’s more than 80 percent…” Ahem, maths fail!

  • Yes, the correct answer is 78.2%. But you can’t really blame Ed, he didn’t have the benefit of a private education.

    Flashman really showed himself up this week shouting “Shut up!” at poor Tom Balls. If he treats senior politicians like that how on earth does he treat his fags?

    Balls is annoying because he keeps reminding the Tory led coalition of some unpleasant truths.

    Ed’s speech to the TUC march was excellent. The historical allusions came first and have been taken out of context (of course). People should get hold of a copy and read what he said after all the ‘standing on the shoulders’ stuff.

  • Cameroon plays Mr Smooth and Mr Nice Guy on TV however in PMQs he often shows his true colours when under pressure and becomes annoyed. He always makes snide comments and put downs. Not the trait of a good leader

    He can fool some of the people some of the time…

    The LibDems certainly had a lot of people fooled too. They had us convinced they were the Party of principle = .I came very close to voting for them – my partner foolishly did and very much regrets it. They appear more than happy to pursue a right wing agenda as long as they have a taste of power.

  • Old Codger Chris 31st Mar '11 - 10:52pm

    Much of PMQs is a combination of childish point-scoring between government and opposition parties and sycophantic “questions” from the government’s toadying backbenchers.

    The fact that the unelected House of Lords is the usual forum for grown-up debate doesn’t say much for democracy.

  • @ Paul Walter ‘This was a skin crawlingly appalling lapse of judgement. He made a complete fool of himself.”

    The desperation with which the opponents of Labour are attempting to ridicule the allusions in Ed’s speech to other mass protest movements reveals their alarm at the sight of a re-juvenated Labour Party in alliance with the Trade Unions bringing half a million people peacefully out on to the streets in a mass protest. They are worried stiff that the trade unions and the Labour leadership are again as one. It also shows the extent of the Lib Dem/ Tory complacency that they do not appreciate the extent of the anger against the cuts that exists and that is as deep and as strongly felt as that which was felt by the suffragettes. “David Cameron, this is the big society” Ed Miliband told the rally in Hyde Park. “The big society united against what your government is doing to our country.’ But you didn’t hear that on our jaundiced media, all you heard were jokes about Ed comparing himself to Nelson Mandella. Absolutely not true. Elsewhere, on this site I have posted that the Lib Dems should change the bird on their logo to an ostrich. Comments such as yours, Paul, give me no cause to change my mind. I encourage everybody to get hold of a copy of Ed’s speeech and make up their own minds.

  • Old Codger Chris 1st Apr '11 - 1:25pm

    @Paul Walter
    I stand corrected on PMQs, you’re certainly more conscientious about reading Parliamentary detail than I am.

    Regarding your post about how disappointed some Conservatives are with the government, although this is certainly true they’re not half as disappointed as I am. I’ve just read today’s Indepdendent story headed “Every University in England and Wales to charge more than £6000”. Not exactly what some of us voted for.

  • Paul Walter
    Posted 1st April 2011 at 12:54 pm | Permalink
    @MacK I am not guilty to any of those non-sensical allegations. I just read a speech which was a complete and ridiculous misjudgment.

    Fair enough Paul. You have at least read the speech and made up your own mind!

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