PMQs: Vince labels Gordon ‘Mr Bean’

What is there left to say? Another great PMQs’ performance from Vince has even got worrying that he’s setting the bar too high for whichever of Nick or Chris succeeds him as party leader. For the record, I think he (whoever he is) will do just fine.

(As some political commentators seem to be surprised by quite how well Vince is currently performing, I will take the liberty of posting this link to an article I wrote in autumn 2006: Why I like Vince.)

Below is the Hansard transcript of today’s PMQs joust between Vince and Gordon:

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): The House has noticed the Prime Minister’s remarkable transformation in the past few weeks from Stalin to Mr. Bean—[Laughter]—creating chaos out of order, rather than order out of chaos. But amidst the administrative bungling and even the sleaze, does he not accept that the most damaging remark over the past week came from the services chiefs, when they accused him of wilfully neglecting the safety and welfare of the young men and women who serve in our armed forces?

The Prime Minister: At every point in the job that I am in, I will do everything in my power to defend and protect the security of our armed forces. I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that the defence budget is rising every year and will continue to rise, and that when we came into power the defence budget in Britain was the fifth largest in the world. It is now the second largest in the world. As for housing, we are spending £5 billion over the next 10 years on armed services accommodation, more than at any point in the history of the armed forces—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Before the hon. Gentleman rises, you have got to be quiet, Mr. Russell.

Dr. Cable: We know about the defence budget, because the Prime Minister signed £5 billion-worth of cheques for the Iraq war, but is not the truth at the end of it that the troops lack adequate equipment, adequate medical care and adequate accommodation? Is not the underlying truth that where the armed forces are concerned, fundamentally, the Prime Minister is not interested and does not care?

The Prime Minister: The chief of the armed services gave a briefing last week, saying that we were better equipped than ever before. That is why we have not only invested the money from the defence budget but, in order to meet the urgent operational requirements of our armed forces, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, invested an additional £6.6 billion above the defence budgets that have been announced. Whether it be for tanks, helicopters, night vision equipment, specific help for individual members of the armed forces in contacting their relatives or accommodation at home, we will continue to do everything in our power to help our armed forces do their duty.

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This entry was posted in News and PMQs.


  • Geoffrey Payne 28th Nov '07 - 5:33pm

    All good schoolboy stuff.

  • Martin Land 28th Nov '07 - 5:52pm

    And of that £5 billion, a vast chunk will end up in the pockets of Annington’s the lucky winners of the botched privatisation of MOD accomodation. I wonder how many members of the public release that the army doesn’t even own Army Barracks? Whatever next? A New Labour – Taliban PFI for Helman Province?

  • Nick Barlow 28th Nov '07 - 7:55pm

    Alex – he was asking about decent housing for Army families, though a bit too loud for the Speaker, apparently.

  • Steven Ronald 28th Nov '07 - 8:24pm

    Vince learning how to play the crowd. It is bit childish – yes. He looked a bit shamefaced on C4 news. But he’s doing the right thing. A couple of weeks ago at PMQs Vince Cable was excellent – I heard him on Radio 4 – but I didn’t realise that it was PMQs because it sounded like he was in a tiny room with about 10 people in it – it’s always so loud when DC or GB speaks for obviously reasons. Top marks for VC so far.

  • Richard Church 28th Nov '07 - 9:42pm

    We should always remember that to most people PMQ’s are an offputting charade of middle aged fifth form boys. Far from engaing people, PMQ’s just put people off any idea of engaing in politics or taking politics seriously.

    Well done to Vince for his efforts in getting heard in this squabble, but it is not the forum in which we should judge the ability of our next leader to communicate with the public.

  • Whilst agreeing with Richard Church (6) that PMQs performances shouldn’t be the criteron for picking the leader, it’s certainly a pleasant change to see favourable press coverage. If a leader is able to impress the political correspondants, that’s a great step forward in how the Lib Debs might be reported compared to Ming’s time.

    I guess it’s all too late now but a poll on here to show support for either Clegg, Huhne or Cable would be interesting.

  • Rob

    Based on the poll at the right-hand side of this page, what would be more interesting would be a three-way Clegg, Huhne or Kennedy poll.

  • Vince has been opportunist in the best sense of the word – seizing opportunities to put across a distinctive Lib Dem message in an eye-catching way.

  • passing tory 29th Nov '07 - 8:00am

    I have to say that I think that Cable and Cameron form a very effective two-pronged attack on Brown. It puts the PM in a very difficult position when he has to play both the more strategic questions of Cameron and the more specific questions of Cable.

  • “Strategic questions” from Cameron, would you say, Tory? More like a rant with an unanswerable personally targeted question at the end.

  • Geoffrey Payne 29th Nov '07 - 8:46am

    Vince understands economics far better than Cameron does.
    Likewise in the Lib Dem leadership contest, Huhne understands economics far better than Clegg.
    So if you are a Lib Dem who wants to see more of this, vote Huhne.

  • passing tory 29th Nov '07 - 9:31am


    IMHO the best way of bringing down Brown is a combination of forensic questioning and more forceful questioning. All I am saying is that at the moment I think that Cameron and Cable have a very effective good cop/bad cop line going where Cameron knocks Brown around a bit and then Cable comes in with some very good precise questions.

    I don’t doubt for a moment that Cameron could ask similar types of questions if he wanted to but it is much harder for Brown to just dismiss Cable because of Cable’s seniority and their old friendship.

    But equally, mere forensic questioning is not enough and Cameron would be rightly criticised if he didn’t display a significant degree of anger given the way that the government is messing things up.

    There are many important issues – e.g. ID cards – where the Lib Dem and Conservative position coincide and so I think we should applaud the fact that it is starting to look as though the government is under significant pressure which may make it harder to push through some of these controversial schemes.

  • LiberalHammer 29th Nov '07 - 9:57am

    William Hague used to stuff Blair at PMQs routinely. Not that it did him much good in 2001.

  • passing tory 29th Nov '07 - 10:20am

    Sure, LiberalHammer. PMQs is not that significant outside the Westminster bubble, but it is important in terms of the momentum of government.

    IMHO, much of what goes on in the House of Commons is like deer rutting; a non-lethal trial of ability that determines a pecking order; it looks a bit crazy to outsiders but in fact is a very effective way of determining a hierarchy.

    Of course it needs to be backed up by lots of solid policy work too. I don’t expect most of the readers of this blog to get particularly excited about the Tory policy review but from my perspective there is some very exciting thinking coming out of it and your point is well made in that it is articulation of these polices, rather than the theatre of PMQs, that is really important. I think in fact that a number of Tories are rather annoyed by all these Labour problems because it means that everything else (e.g. all the detail of education policy announced last week) isn’t getting much of a look in on the news channels.

  • passing tory 29th Nov '07 - 4:33pm

    Sounds as though the details should have got more coverage.

    My understanding is that the use of phonics is a recommendation that other methods will be compared against. I too was somewhat concerned that this smacked of centralism.

    On uniforms, I gather the situation will be the same; it should be a recommendation.

    There is a clear need for change. The current systems have let down three generations of children (and of course the current kids are massively disadvantaged when parents and grandparents don’t have a solid base in language), and the recent results on literacy highlight that current strategies simply are not working. I can therefore see the case for a more prescriptive approach. However, the approach of allowing the drive for change to come from supply-side pressure is good: new schools coming on line that use phonics and show superior results would naturally trigger change. That way, if a new super-duper system does emerge it can be allowed to thrive too.

    As an aside, I am interested that you don’t think that the use of uniforms makes any difference to behavior. You say the “causal link flows the other way”. Do you have a reference for this?

  • passing tory 29th Nov '07 - 7:56pm

    On phonics against other methods, my understanding is that it depends what you are looking at. Long term semantic understanding is pretty much the same but some other indicators (I can’t recall what they were I’m afraid; will try to dig it out) were significantly better with phonics.

    I don’t doubt that a combination of approaches would be best although from a purely functional approach that would probably mean getting most teachers to learn how use to phonics now as they should already be familiar with whole language teaching 🙂

    But certainly the kids I tutor were really struggling with whole language and have thrived with phonics (and I gather from the teacher that since they moved to whole language, ALL the kids require additional tutoring).

    On the uniform my common sense and yours are at odds. The advantages of uniforms are that they massively reduce the impact of wealth on dress (no-one can swan around in designer trainers, and it is hard to tell a hand-down from one bought yesterday)and being easily identified around school (so people know where to complain if kids are misbehaving outside school), not to mention the standard ideas of encouraging pride in the institution etc.

    I am slightly surprised that you are against uniforms because they are a profoundly egalitarian idea.

    Of course they represent a rule, and this is a rule that children will no doubt fight against, and this can be construed as being “illiberal”. But it is no bad thing for children to realise that society has rules which it is in everyones interest to have enforced, and it is better for them to learn this principle on something relatively petty like school uniform than at the hands of the criminal justice system.

  • Jill, London 30th Nov '07 - 12:21am

    The person who first likened Gordon Brown to Mr Bean is Leo McKinstry in an interesting piece of analysis in the Daily Express on 19 November. This is the link:

  • Vince’s comment was not original but he got away with it at PMQs where there has been so much critisism. He has been a pleasant surprise to some parts of the media and because he has a few friends/fans [Andrew Neil and some guy at Sky news whose name I can’t remember come to mind] he has had a small but willing audience that he has been able to build upon.
    It has been great to be able to look forward to PMQs and switch off with a smile!

  • passing tory 30th Nov '07 - 10:27am

    So, on phonics, further down on the ref you gave earlier it cites finding that the understanding of spelling and structure of language was significantly better that with whole language.

    Why do I need a sample size of 1000? Surely the required sample size is dependent on the difference between the observed means of the two samples (or resolution if you prefer to think of it in that way) and the required confidence level? The fact that the school sees a definite difference on a sample of ~300 just means that, under these circumstances, the difference is large. But of course this could be an outlier, or there could be other circumstances (in this case mostly likely the fact that they are teaching English as a second language and the teachers are used to using a phonetic approach as whole language teaching has only recently appeared on the scene here).

    On uniforms, the study you cite looks somewhat suspect to me. The raw data shows uniform schools do better and it is only after “standardisation” that uniform schools perform worse. That, in combination with the fact that detailed results are shown for the two groups for which the raw data does not support uniforms (which means that the other subgroups must support uniforms strongly) suggests to me that the authors have an axe to grind. I would need to look into their standardistion procedure in more detail but I smell a rat here.

  • Angus J Huck 30th Nov '07 - 10:53am

    Passing Tory:

    There is one reason and one reason only why school children are forced to wear uniforms – and it is the same reason Chairman Mao forced the Chinese to wear boiler suits. To obliterate their sense of individual identity and force them to worship authority.

    Don’t bore me with your casuistic drivel about equality. Admit it. You are in favour of imposing dress codes on children and young people because you hate freedom and particularly dislike any notion of personal choice and individual autonomy in this age group.

    If you cannot force us into uniforms as children, are you ever going to be able to get us into military uniforms and send us off to fight your wars for you?

  • passing tory 30th Nov '07 - 12:00pm

    yummy, yummy, the details of statistical analyses. My favourite 🙂

    The problem with all these debates is, as you allude to, the fact that trying to control for other factors is incredibly hard. For this reason my wife, who works in this area, is a fan of qualitative studies (basically, educated anecdotal evidence). As a numbers man I am intrinsically skeptical of qualitative approaches although in this case I think she has a point (well, I have to agree or I will have to do all the housework 🙂 )

    The problem with standardisation is not the idea of standardisation as such, but what standardisation was used in this case. When I read a study like this I look at the way that the data is presented and get suspicious. It looks extremely likely to me that I could “standardise” the values to show that uniform make a huge improvement. And of course, the fact that the conclusion has picked one of the two subgroups that showed the effect the author was after adds to my suspicions.

  • passing tory 30th Nov '07 - 12:08pm


    Are you really that stupid? I have made the case for why I support uniforms above; do I have to spell it out again for you in thoughts of one syllable?

  • Angus J Huck 30th Nov '07 - 12:14pm

    No, Passing Tory, I am not stupid. I am clever. Clever enough, in fact, to see through your fatuous, hand-me-down apology for an “argument”, and address the real issue.

    School uniforms are unacceptable (1) because they are compulsory, and (2) because they are degrading.

    I believe in freedom and treating people with respect. Evidently, you believe in neither.

  • passing tory 30th Nov '07 - 1:12pm

    Angus, I believe in mutual respect. Look at my previous posts. How often am I even mildly irritated? Only when people are rude to me. I have noticed that you have something of a pattern of dragging the debate down; if you were just rude to me then I would pin it on a bad cup of coffee or something but either it is you, or your espresso machine needs a clean.

    OK, lets look at your two points in more detail.

    (1) because they are compulsory

    As I pointed out above, at one level you can argue that uniforms are “illiberal” because they appear to be constraining children. And superficially this appears to me true. But lets look at this deeper. The whole of society runs on certain compulsions: “Thou shall not kill” and so on, down through all the intricacies of the statute book. At some point children have to learn this fact. Increasingly this is not being done at home for a number of reasons (parents are too busy, or never picked up this concept in the first place) so the burden is (rather unfairly in many ways) being passed to schools. Now, I am not going to say that uniforms are the only way of achieving this but they can be a useful tool. Personally, I would not be in favour of an edict from Whitehall saying that all schools should have uniforms, although I am also aware that the lack of uniform help children to pass though education without having to learn how to live within boundaries and that can present significant problems later in life.

    (2) because they are degrading.

    It is hard to know what you mean by this. Do you mean that children don’t like them? I wouldn’t expect children to necessarily like them. In fact I would expect (and hope) that they fight them. My mother recalls stories of all sorts of tricks the girls at her school used to try to push the limits of the uniform. But in this process they learn just as much as they will in a dozen “citizenship” lessons.

    I have to say the caricature of me that you portray is most amusing. As it happens I was raised to be an artist (jackboots where strictly for ironic use only) and rebelled and moved into science. But I know enough art to realise that underneath a veneer of self-expression you need formidable draughtmanship. The same is true of children; yes we need to encourage self-expression but the solid foundations need to be there first or we are creating nothing but frauds.

  • Angus J Huck 30th Nov '07 - 1:31pm

    Passing Tory:

    Thank you for your Sunday School homily.

    What you have singularly failed to deliver is any kind of convincing justification for forcing your fellow citizens (who are not soldiers, policemen, postmen, etc)to wear uniforms.

    I believe that depriving a human being of his or her liberty is acceptable only where there is an overwhelmingly powerful reason so to do.

    Obviously – as an authoritarian conservative – you don’t.

    I will be as rude to human rights violators as I feel is necessary to get my point across.

  • passing tory 30th Nov '07 - 1:47pm

    I believe that depriving a human being of his or her liberty is acceptable only where there is an overwhelmingly powerful reason so to do.

    Angus, where do you draw the line? Spelling and grammar are both constraining, let alone traditional essay structure. And rhyme? Would you advocate ignoring these?

    If so, I imagine that I probably am more authoritarian than you although I imagine 99+% of the country is with me on that point.

    I am saddened you feel no concern about being rude; I suppose you are like one of those Oxford “anti-fascist” protesters who see nothing wrong in shouting “kill Tryl” to make their point.

  • Angus J Huck 30th Nov '07 - 4:33pm


    Grow up!

  • Angus J Huck 30th Nov '07 - 4:35pm

    Passing Tory wrote:

    “If so, I imagine that I probably am more authoritarian than you although I imagine 99+% of the country is with me on that point.”

    You have evidence for your assertion, presumably?

  • passing tory 30th Nov '07 - 5:03pm

    And not the half-assed Tory vouchers that subsidize middle class kids to escape to private schools, thanks – reverse-valued vouchers that are worth more to the poor than the rich

    Look, I am not trying to “convert” you here but what you have described as what you want is precisely what Gove outlined in his green paper last week (OK, not as vouchers, but as funding following the child within the state system and more difficult kids to teach having more money associated with them, which is functionally pretty much identical). So I don’t quite see how, from a rational point of view, you can slag off the Tory policy and then propose something identical. From a political point of view it might make sense to make out your opponents are unreasonable while you advocate identical policies but then it would be pretty hypocritical to go around shouting about introducing a “new type of politics” 🙂

  • passing tory 30th Nov '07 - 5:05pm

    You have evidence for your assertion, presumably?

    Let’s be clear about your position first. Are you against grammar and spelling being taught as they are restrictive?

  • Angus J Huck 30th Nov '07 - 5:10pm

    Grammar and spelling? Are you trying to be funny?

    There is a great deal of difference between teaching good English (more please!) and forcing people to wear clothing not of their choice without a justifiable reason.

    I fail to see the moral equivalence between the two.

  • passing tory 30th Nov '07 - 5:27pm

    There is a great deal of difference between teaching good English (more please!) and forcing people to wear clothing not of their choice without a justifiable reason.

    Not really. To a child they both involve working around rules that don’t seem to make any sense but are there because they are there.

    The short term, the marginal advantage in formally teaching grammar is actually fairly small (kids appear to pick up the rules of language easily enough by ear), although the long term impact can be considerably greater. I have lost track of the number of times I have had to sit down with people with Ph.D’s to explain very simple grammatical concepts, and I wouldn’t consider myself a natural linguist in the slightest (as my abysmal spelling shows).

    From my experience, I believe something similar to be true of using uniforms although I can see I have going to have to dig around in the literature this w/e to satisfy your need for harder data (although, as discussed above) these things are incredibly hard to measure objectively.

  • Angus J Huck 30th Nov '07 - 11:59pm

    Passing Tory wrote:

    “Not really. To a child they both involve working around rules that don’t seem to make any sense but are there because they are there.”

    Obviously you and I inhabit different universes.


    Perhaps you should look up the word “mentalist” in the dictionary. If you do, I think you will find that it refers to a stage magician who mimics mind-reading. Is that me?

    What you took to be a smart**se gratuitous insult sends you landing flat on your face.

    If you want to get people to listen to you and remember what you say, being what you call “strident” is one way to do it. Successful communicators understand that. Mr Clegg please note (I’m straining to recall something the guy has said).

  • passing tory 1st Dec '07 - 12:21am

    Also, I’m afraid that even though DC seems to speak a lot of sense sometimes, I simply don’t trust the Tories to do what they claim.

    Ah, trust. That nebulous entity that somehow guides me to the same supermarket each week and allows Nike to build a huge business empire based around a tick.

    You are right of course. Labour MPs used to say that they could ask farmers to write their manifesto for them and they would still go away and vote Conservative, and this is the same sort of thing.

    There is, of course, a lot I disagree with in that green paper – there seem to be so many parts of it that are needlessly dictating policy from the centre

    I don’t think the green paper is perfect (but given the current state of the system, very good would still be a huge improvement). I agree elements appear centrist, and it concerns me that some of the lessons of the Thatcher era (where, despite an instinct to spread out power, control was actually centralised in order to drive through the reforms that were needed) risk being repeated. I would very much hope that the supply side reform on its own would be enough to drive up standards. However, you have to take into account that the realities of government may well mean that supply side reform alone would just be too slow (not to mention, very difficult to sell to the general public in an election). There is always a balance to be met between what you would like to do and what you can achieve.

    Anyway, this paper is going through a consultation phase at the moment so I hope that the final policy will reflect some of these concerns.

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