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….

There was no prospect of Ken Clarke having one his dozes at PMQs today, that’s for sure. Ed Miliband loudly said that David Cameron had “torn up” Clarke’s sentencing plans. Perhaps he protesteth-ed a little too much, even saying that he thought the opposition to the 50% discount for guilty pleas was “understandable”.

Cameron leapt on this, quoting the shadow justice secretary as saying the sentencing proposals were a “perfectly sensible vision”. He also said that Labour had introduced the discount system (at 33%) in the first place. “Why the sudden U turn?” he asked.

Igoring that, Miliband went onto the NHS, leaving the sentencing debate oddly curtailed.

But Cameron was having none of it, saying Miliband had been “found guilty” on the subject of sentencing. He accused him of jumping on bandwagons and said “Bandwagon Number one” (on sentencing) had “hit the buffers” so Miliband had debanded onto the health bandwagon, which Cameron called “Bandwagon Two”. Perhaps he should have called them “B1” and “B2” like on “Bananas in pyjamas”. (Apologies for that “Watch with Father” digression).

Safely at the controls of “Bandwagon Two”, Miliband said the health reforms were “a mess”. Cameron quoted the Shadow Health Secretary saying that the health reform listening exercise was “good government”. Miliband quoted Cameron from before the election, talking to the Royal College of Nursing saying there would be “no more top down reorganizations”.

Cameron ignored that and said that the same Royal College of Nursing welcomed his speech yesterday and that the government was giving more funding to the health service while Labour want to cut it. He also threw in Wales (again) for good measure, saying waiting lists are up there – the only bit “of the health service which Labour control”.

There was then a golden Pot/Kettle moment. Or should I say black pot/kettle moment? Ed Miliband said Cameron is “completely shameless and will saying anything”. There was much roaring from the Tory benches.

Why did Cameron scrap 18 week waiting times as a goal? – it’s up 69% – Miliband asked. Cameron then accused Miliband of misleading the Commons last week. There was a sharp intake of breath from Erskine May wonks. The Speaker rose to ask the PM to withdraw that accusation. Cameron didn’t, but said he meant that Miliband made “interesting use of the facts”.

Miliband said Cameron was rattled and said he has the wrong values, and therefore wanted to bring in a “free market free-for-all” into the NHS. “He’s been found out” he said, ending with aplomb: “You can’t trust the Tories on the NHS”. So that was Miliband’s soundbite, safely delivered.

Cameron on the other hand wanted to emphasise that Ed Miliband is a “weak leader”. He used the phrase “weak leadership” twice. You can’t say the two of them don’t follow the polling and focus groups.

Other snippets were:

• RESEARCHER WATCH – “The median 18 week waiting time is down”, said Cameron. Well done to the researcher who dredged that up. It’s the first time I’ve heard a politician use the term “median”.

• Annette Brooke (LibDem) brought up the pension age proposal for women, asking Cameron to review it. No, said Cameron. Lindsay Roy (Lab) asked about the same subject.

• Tom Watson (Lab) claimed that there was evidence of more serious hacking by newspapers which is being “covered up”.

• Gareth Johnson (Con) asked about the report which says IVF treatment on the NHS is being differently dispensed by different primary care trusts. Cameron said the Deputy Chief Excutive of the NHS is ending a letter to all trusts to remind them of the guidelines on this.

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  • What does the enforced U-turn on Ken Clarke’s policies mean? You guys loved him and his policies; ‘The Sixth Lib Dem Cabinet Minister’ and all that.

    Does Nick endorse this u-turn? Are the government no longer liberal on justice? What does this mean for the influence of the Liberal Democrats? Is the government still Conservative led, or simply Conservative?

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 8th Jun '11 - 6:29pm

    This is about the difference Of 1.7 years of a 10 year sentence. It’s not exactly a totemic tectonic plate-shifting event.

  • Paul Walter, you don’t think sentencing needed to be reformed? I’m pretty sure it was a manifesto commitment from the Lib Dems and it was certainly in the Coalition Agreement.

    Do you think that the PM pre-judging proposed reforms and ruling them out, unilaterally, is in breach of this?

  • @Paul Walter

    “This is about the difference Of 1.7 years of a 10 year sentence. It’s not exactly a totemic tectonic plate-shifting event.”

    Try saying that to someone who has been victim of Child abuse and see what reaction you get.

    My abuser had his sentence reduced from 12 to 8, because of a guilty plea, even though he only changed his plea to guilty 1 week before the trial was due to start. He spent 9 months on remand, insisting his innocence, because whilst on remand you get more privileges.
    He was released after serving Half his sentence, so served a total of 4 years, 9 Months of those, as i said as a remand prisoner.

    As a Victim of child abuse for almost 8 years, I sometimes feel as though it’s like a life sentence from which I can not escape.
    My abuser, spent 4 measly years in prison.

    Please don’t tell me that the difference of 1.7 years is hardly relevant because I can assure you, to a victim, It’s huge.

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 8th Jun '11 - 9:11pm

    @Mat, with respect, I suspect you’ve misunderstood what I was saying.

    If you go back, @g was saying (and I apologise for paraphrasing to demonstrate the point) that the dropping of the 50% discount was a major blow to the LibDems and to the cohesion of the coalition. I was saying that it isn’t a major blow to either and therefore that I am not disappointed to see the 50% idea shelved.

    So I am on your side of the argument, in that I am saying that I want the 50% plan to be shelved and the policy on discounts to remain as it is. The reason I am saying that is for precisely the sorts of reasons you outline from a very personal point of view in your comment. I can see that the implementation of the 50% discount policy would result in a major public loss of confidence in the sentencing system.

  • @paul walter

    Thank you for the clarification, I apologize for misunderstanding your post, I flew in with emotions and didn’t stop to take care that i had processed what you had said properly.

    It is an extremely emotional time though for victims of heinous crimes, Many I would imagine, feel as though they are being let down by the government and the justice system, with all this talk of reducing sentences.

    A child who is abused, is robbed of their life in my opinion.

    And yet a Pedophile who commits these heinous crimes is able to walk freely once more amongst society after only a few years in prison.

    Reducing sentences is not justice and it is not something that we should advocate for these filth who commit such heinous crimes against children and society as a whole.

  • @Andrew Tennant

    I thought the Lib Dems (and Ken Clarke) wanted alternatives to prison sentences for some offences as part of a strategy to reduce repeat offending? Obviously this isn’t as simple as reducing sentences by 50%, but nobody has ever claimed it was. However, Cameron’s u-turn does suggest that reform of sentencing is unlikely.

    That said I notice that the spin is now that these reductions will not count in convictions for rape, no mention of other crimes, so these may well still be going ahead.

  • @g, What has removing short term prison sentences (Lib Dem Policy) got to do with halving the length of prison sentences for early guilty pleas?

    I’d personally support the 50% reduction in tariffs if it only applied to immediate guilty please (i.e pretty much as soon a the Police arrest them) and was reduced the closer they get to their court date until changing their plea at court gives only a small discount (10% say).

    The current system of automatic 33% discount for guilty please regardless of when they plead guilty is not a good system IMHO and is ripe for abuse (staying on remand longer as Mat says for example)

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