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 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.
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33 Comments

  • Depressed Ex Lib Dem 3rd Feb '11 - 11:47pm

    “He’s the MP for Richmond Park. So obviously he’d ask about some locally relevant topic wouldn’t he?”

    Only if you assume every politician is automatically “Talking for Buncombe,” surely?

  • Foregone Conclusion 4th Feb '11 - 12:24am

    Depressed Ex Lib Dem – if I remember rightly, Goldsmith was elected on the grounds that he would resign and so trigger a by-election if parking charges were imposed on Richmond Park, which must be the apogee of ‘my back yard’ politics. We can’t escape blame for some of the worst excesses of pavement politics, and I’m rather glad he’s decided to change tack now he’s been elected, but he definitely has form.

  • PMQ was Milliband playing the Statesman and I bet it caught Cameron by surprise. Obviously with Egypt on the edge it would have seemed a tad insensitive if we had our normal beano in the HoC – I mean we are the Mother of Parliaments and presumably what the Egyptian protesters are aspiring to achieve.

  • David Thompson 4th Feb '11 - 9:46am

    @ Dan Falchikov. Why insult Liverpool? They have taken a remarkably measured approach considering the huge level of cuts they and their neighbouring boroughs are currently facing. It might be worth remembering that the Labour administration in Liverpool is working closely with their Lib Dem colleagues (who were recently in power) to agree a budget together. Very far from the caricature portrayed by your ‘back to the eighties’ approach implying that the days of ‘militant’ have returned.

    I would hope that as a Lb Dem you would be looking to regain control of the city? Hardly going to be helped by insulting them.

    …and as for the ‘Big Society’ initiative, they haven’t just dropped it. They’ve looked at their existing ‘Big Society’ and find that the cuts mean they are having to reduce support (or cut it all together) from just those community groups that the PM hopes to be implementing this ‘Big Society’. That’s why they have been forced to drop it after they were initially enthusiastic. Please reconsider your outdated attitude to the city.

  • Scarlet Standard 4th Feb '11 - 9:54am

    Don’t be disingenuous Paul. He asked about Afghanistan because he just visited Afghanistan.

  • @Paul Walter

    I was actually surprised at the lack of interest and input shown by LibDem MPs the other day when the NHS hatchet-plan was being discussed in the HoC – but it seems par for the course when controversial bills come up.

    At the end of the day Milliband is the man that decides how he is going to approach PMQ and we outsiders have no actual insight as to what’s going on and what bigger picture may be unfolding. It may well be that Cameron was hoping for the knock-about from Milliband so he could then attack him as not being a serious Statesman in view of what was happening in Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan and Yemen.

    Milliband stepped up to the plate in any case and I’m sure foiled a Cameron ‘trap’.

    I wonder what the Egyptiand would have made of our Democracy LibDem MP antics the other night when they went through both the NO and YES Voting Lobbies and ended up being labelled ‘unparliamentary’ by the Speaker.

    Egyptians don’t have the luxury of covering their political ass*s – they are out on the streets dying for their Democracy.

  • @Dan Falchikov: I hear your allegations about the ‘dinosaurs of Liverpool’ and the link below makes illuminating and interesting reading on the problems of the Big Society implementation just on the time required of volunteers taking part – even more pertinebt when Lord Wei the Big Society Czar is having to cut down on the time he spends.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/feb/01/big-society-lord-wei-volunteering

    And to return to Liverpool, insults are cheap. If the LibDem Group on Liverpool Council were to produce an actual dossier of evidence and a plan as to how they would keep the city’s Big Society project on plan despite the crippling cuts forced on the City by Pickles, then I would listen with interest and I’m sure so would Liverpool Labour Councillors.

    It may well be of course that Liverpool LibDem and Labour have had discussions on the matter and perhaps the local LibDems are with Labour on this one – I don’t know the answer to that and I am not really interested in someone attempting to make political capital, without citing any actual evidence, out of a situation which is horrendous not only for Liverpool and its people but for many other areas ‘selected’ by Pickles for non-proportionate cuts.

    I wonder where the Cameron’s British Happiness index sits at the moment – I think it would be a good idea to have it on every government website just to remind politicians how desperate people are becoming.

  • @Paul Walters

    Btw Paul – it is of no consequence how David Milliband would have handled anytghing at PMQ because he isn’t Leader of her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.

    I think politics has moved on a bit from artificially stirring the pot trying to create an imprssion of bad blood between the brothers after the election.

    In many ways I have always felt that the two of them actually displayed that their are close family bonds which they both knew might be strained by the election, no matter who won, but they carried-on knowing that the bonds would hold and the relationship would eventually repair.

    This is a normal process in every normal family in the country – they have actual been highly restrained IMHO opinion looking back to the firece rivallry between my boys as they grew from teenages/young men into mature adults. It was warfare at time as the hormones, aspirations, jealousy and a million and one other things clashed.

    Now I smile as the grandchildren are growing up and my family come to me exasperated at the kids and the way they fall in and out with each other. But hey, Life goes on 🙂

  • @Dan Falchikov

    Unfortunately he’s been dealt a blow to this new approach (if that is what it is) by the antics of the dinosaurs in his Liverpool party who have preferred to spend more time with their redundancy notices than engaging with the government.

    Grow up, Dan. Maybe the Tory defence that ‘this is just politics’ has traction in Nick Clegg’s Coalition Sympathiser’s Party (formerly known as the once respected Lib Dem party) – but when even Phil Redmond + Lord Wei are saying in different ways that it won’t work – I kind of get the feeling that it won’t work.

  • Sorry – I still don’t get who the “Pillsbury doughboy” is referenced in the headline.

  • @Paul Walter

    I like you PMQ piece each week but would always caution against perception being influenced by bias – in a blog like your’s once that happens it loses any sense of fun or credibility. However, if it doesn’t spark off comment and criticism it isn’t working either.

  • Paul Walter

    Nasty character assasination? No.

    Silly + beneath you, demonstrating that the Lib Dems’ avowed intention to be non-tribal is nought but words? Yes.

  • Paul

    I like the unknowing “There’s nothing tribal about it” followed by “Let’s face it, Labour have chosen a dud leader”.

    Irony is such a cruel mistress.

  • How does it fit in?

    Where are the personal insults regarding either of their appearances? You know – like you’ve used with Miliband?

    Or your opinion on their leaderships, summarised in one word dismissals such as “dud”?

  • @ Paul Water

    I thought Ed Miliband completely wrongfooted Cameron this week. It was obvious that a serious discussion about foreign policy was the last thing Cameron was expecting and he appeared completely unprepared for it. At least Ed Miliband gets to ask some questions whereas “Clever Dave ” and the Dominators have effectively gagged your party leader’s right to ask questions at the all important PMQs; questions which would reflect his party members (not just Lib Dem M.P.s) serious concerns. (Yes I know it would be a paradox if Clegg questioned Cameron about decisions Cameron had made and Clegg had agreed to) but by inveigling you into coalition the Tories have completely stitched you as an effective political force at PMQs. I would even suggest that before the General Election the proportion of Lib Dem M.P.s asking questions at PMQs was far greater than it is now, which, if true, would also reflect your reduced political impact at PMQs. An interesting subject for research if anyone has the time to trawl back through some of the pre May 2010 PMQs and do a compare and contrast analysis of the share of question opportunities enjoyed by the respective parties then and now.

  • @ Paul Water

    I thought that this site had a comments policy. As you have unashamedly called Ed Miliband “the Pilsbury Doughboy” here, does this now mean that I can call Cameron “the Condom” and Clegg “Pinocchio” ? without fear of being moderated?

  • @Paul Walter

    It may have escaped your notice but this site has a comments policy. Now that you have referred to Ed Miliband as “The Pilsbury Doughboy” does that mean that I can use insulting terms about Cameron and Clegg here from now on?

  • MacK (Labour) 7th Feb '11 - 6:00pm

    Actually, my Cameron and Clegg comment was moderated for a time (I expected it to be) hence my amended comment, which was provided as an alternative, but wisdom prevailed and both comments were allowed through. Well done, Lib Dem Voice.

    The serious point is that, although you and I might have Low, Bremner et al, as our reference group, others might have as their reference group certain ‘Top Gear’ presenters.

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