Tag Archives: PMQs

PMQs: Clegg to Brown on Chilcot Inquiry – “What have you got to hide?”

Missed PMQs? Here’s the catch-up …

Nick Clegg pressed Gordon Brown to volunteer to appear before Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry into the Iraq war this side of the general election “before people decide how to vote on his record in government?” The Prime Minister replied that it wasn’t a matter for him. (Odd how when you become the most powerful person in Britain, you seem to lose the power to volunteer to do something inconvenient).

So Nick asked again, telling the Prime Minister he “should insist on going to the inquiry now”, and asking “What has he got to hide?” Again Mr Brown said, “Sorry, guv, more than my job’s worth” (or words to that effect).

Nick still wasn’t happy, so has now written to the Prime Minister, chalenging him to do the decent thing:

Dear Gordon,

I am writing to urge you to indicate immediately to Sir John Chilcot that it is your strong preference to go before the Iraq Inquiry ahead of the General Election.

Following developments yesterday at Alastair Campbell’s hearing, your personal role in the decisions that led to the war in Iraq has now come under the spotlight. The notion that your hearing should take place after the election in order that the Inquiry remains outside of party politics therefore no longer holds. On the contrary, the sense that you have been granted special treatment because of your position as Prime Minister will only serve to undermine the perceived independence of the Committee.

As I said to you across the floor of the Commons today, people have a right to know the truth about the part you played in this war before they cast their verdict o n your Government’s record. I urge you to confirm publicly that should Sir John Chilcot invite you to give evidence to the Inquiry ahead of the election you will agree to do so.

Nick Clegg

Well, I don’t suppose Mr Brown will change his mind – but Nick has at least exposed the Prime Minister’s relief-cum-satisfaction that he can dodge the Chilcot bullet, dominating the main political headlines as a result. And by the time Mr Brown does eventually appear he will be a genuinely powerless ex-Prime Minister so who’ll care what he has to say any longer?

Meanwhile David Cameron asked some windy, unfocused and instantly forgettable questions of the Prime Minister who gave at least as good as he got. Score-draw for theatrics; no-score draw for content.

Here’s Nick’s questions, courtesy the BBC. The Hansard transcript’s below it.

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Vince labels Lord Ashcroft a non-dom at PMQs

Forgive me if I tread carefully here, for while the Lib Dem deputy leader is protected by the cloak of Parliamentary privilege your humble scribe has no wish to tangle with a billionaire. So I’ll let The Times tell the story of today’s (Deputy) Prime Minister’s Questions:

A senior Liberal Democrat today referred to Lord Ashcroft, the Tory deputy chairman, as a “non-dom” in the Commons. It is the first time the Conservative peer, whose tax status is unknown, has been described in a such a way on the floor of the House.

Vince Cable, Lib Dem Treasury spokesman, used

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LDVideo … Nick’s PMQs, ‘Unparliamentary language’ and Jon Stewart’s take on ‘Climategate’

Welcome to the latest LDVideo instalment, featuring three of the most memorable video clips doing the rounds on the blogosphere.

I missed covering this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions, so here to make up for it is Nick Clegg’s contribution – taking to task (with some passion) Gordon Brown for Labour’s failures to put fairness at the heart of their policies:

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PMQs: Nick tackles Gordon on the new strategy for Afghanistan

There’s no doubt today’s PMQs belonged to Gordon Brown. It’s not necessarily that he answered the questions any better than usual – that seems to be an acknowledged superfluity for the Prime Minister – but his performance was miles more energetic and confident than usual.

Mr Brown was also helped by an over-defensive David Cameron, who seemed to have no quips prepared for the inevitable assaults by the Prime Minister on the Tories’ tax cuts for millionaires, and the tax-avoiding non-dom status of Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith. Especially effective were the Prime Minister’s withering put-downs – “The more he talks, …

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LDVideo … Mandy, Clegg and Coulson

Welcome to the latest LDVideo instalment, featuring three of the most memorable video clips doing the rounds on the blogosphere.

First up, is a rather catchy little email ditty in honour of Lord Mandelson’s implausible-but-deadly-serious Digital Econmy Bill, courtesy of Dan Bull:

As Dan would wish me to add: If you disapprove of the Bill, sign the petition, or write your own message to Lord Mandelson.

Second up, here’s Nick Clegg’s second question from this week’s PMQs – and it’s a real barnstormer, which has earned Nick deserved acclaim from across the political spectrum:

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Opinion: How can the Lib Dems use mass media to re-connect Parliament and public?

It has been documented extensively via many different platforms that Parliament and the public are more disconnected in the 21st century than at any time in history – although Parliamentarians have never been hugely popular with those who elect them.

Part of the problem has stemmed from the reduction of parliamentary coverage by mass media outlets. This can be traced back many years to the gradual reduction in the reporting of speeches in broadsheet newspapers. Speeches are now hardly ever published, and parliamentary sketch writers usually focus on specific moments during proceedings – sometimes only the trivial.

However, in order to open up Parliament to the mass media, and therefore the electorate, radical reforms to proceedings need to take place. The problem lies with the fact that many people who care about ensuring that Parliament is a more trusted institution are relatively conservative in nature – even if they are radical in other ways. In an institution where clapping is seen as unprecedented behaviour, you know you have a long way to go.

It is clear that media coverage of politics has moved on far more than Parliamentary reform. Here are two suggestions that could be implemented to bring Parliament in to line with 24 hour media output:

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Deputy PMQs: Vince tackles Harriet on bankers’ bonuses

Y’know I’ve expressed my general contempt for the pantomime which passes for Prime Minister’s Questions on many occasions: it’s theatre, mirage, insubstantial: all performance, no content. But we discovered today there’s something worse than the usual rowdy PMQs: when there’s both no performance and no content.

It’s hard to remember that William Hague once had a fearsome Commons reputation for being the best, sparkiest, wittiest debater on the block. Perhaps all those after-dinner speeches have dulled his senses – or perhaps he reckons he’s not paid enough to waste all his best lines on Parliament – but today’s performance against Prime Ministerial stand-in Harriet Harman was lame and dull. To put it in context, he made Harriet look actually quite good. She wasn’t – she was anodyne and frequently out-of-her-depth – but the comparison was to her credit, not his. Still, at least Mr Hague was better than Gordon Brown.

Vince Cable rose, as is traditional, to cheers from all-corners of the house. He started with a dry, slightly obscure, joke in Harriet’s honour – “may I express the hope that when she was briefing the Prime Minister for talks with his friend Signor Berlusconi, she remembered to enclose an Italian translation of her progressive views on gender equality?” – but then stuck to the touchstone issue among the public at the moment: how can government ministers talk of the need for public sector pay restraint when they are signing-off large bonuses for executives in banks currently majority-owned by the public? Harriet made a half-heartedly fierce show of sounding tough while committing the Government to nothing.

In a low-scoring contest, Vince edges it both for injecting (a little) humour into proceedings, and (more importantly) for asking a question that matters to the public, on an issue the government can do something about, and where his own party has something distinctive to say. Mr Hague, take note.

Full Hansard transcript of Vince and Harriet’s exchanges follow:

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PMQs: Nick tackles Gordon on public spending

Apologies, dear reader, but I’ve been busy at work rather than watching Prime Minister’s Questions (so that you don’t have to). I will catch up with it later, but I have read the Hansard transcript. And if today’s PMQs is remembered for anything, I suspect it will be for this quite sublime Prime Ministerial line:

… total spending will continue to rise, and it will be a zero per cent. rise in 2013–14.

Yes, you read that right: 0% counts as a rise in total spending in Gordon Brown’s eyes. The Evening Standard’s Paul Waugh (admittedly not a Labour cheerleader) sums up his performance today:

It was worse than that: it was bad in an inept, jaded, so-grey-I-make-John-Major-look-colourful kinda way. This was a man with the stench of decay around him.

Don’t forget that the economy and figures are supposed to be Brown’s strong suit. If he turns in a performance like this, it suggests that the only real reason for keeping him – namely a possible economic recovery for which he will claim credit – is disappearing fast.

If I were a Labour backbencher watching today, I would have my head in my hands.

That’s certainly how it read.

When Nick Clegg’s turn came, he also asked about public spending, linking the issue (in his supplementary) to his newly-adopted policy of scrapping the Trident nuclear weapons system. It was in his first question, though, that I think Nick did best, skewering the tortured efforts of both the Labour and Tory parties to avoid levelling with the British public how they will respond to the economics of recession. Full Hansard transcript of Nick’s exchanges with Gordon follow:

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We would be “suicidal” to do a deal with Labour

So say “senior party strategists” to the Guardian today:

Nick Clegg would resist overtures from a new prime minister as strongly as he would the current one, senior Liberal Democrat figures have told the Guardian.

The Lib Dem leader believes Labour is finished regardless of who leads the party, and as one close aide put it: “The sort of discussions they need to have can’t take place in government – they need to go into the wilderness to reflect where they stand.” The view damages the hopes of some on the centre-left who believe a change

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“Touché, Mr Speaker!” (It’s pronounced ‘Touchy’)

If you haven’t seen it, here’s the moment the outgoing Speaker Michael Martin forgot to call Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg – the man who last Sunday called for him to quit – for his traditional supplementary question at today’s Prime Minister’s Questions:

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Bloggers unanimous: Gurkha champion Clegg aced PMQs

As I type, the Lib Dems are holding the Government to account on their stance on rights for Ghurka troops to settle in the UK.

But in PMQs this afternoon, Clegg launched a blistering attack on the Prime Minister on the Ghurka issue, despite following Cameron’s similar question.

And he’s been rewarded for his efforts with a round of ace reviews from bloggers across the spectrum:

Jane Marrick: Clegg’s finest hour

But it was Clegg who played the real blinder. This was the Lib Dem leader’s best performance at PMQs. Clegg has struggled to find the right issue to get the PM on,

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PMQs: Stafford Hospital and the “frenzied” target system

Quite an interesting session this: several questions, from all sides, did a good job of uncovering the deeply managerial soul of New Labour, and its according fixation with formulating strategy rather than getting things done, and with punishing management failure rather than seeking its  root causes in the bigger picture.

First, Cameron and Brown battled again, quite earnestly this week, over the economy. The bones of contention were Stuff and Things this time, rather than the more usual Apologies and Hurt Feelings, and the session was the better for it.  Cameron sought to prove that all the grandiose schemes and initiatives Brown announces week by week are not being implemented properly. Ministers, apparently, have admitted as much, but Brown stays in his “bunker”. Cameron’s definition of when the recession began differs from Brown’s (to whose advantage I know not. Cameron says the recessions began when the economy stopped growing in April, Brown says we entered recession in July – is there a technical right or wrong answer here, gentle reader?)

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(Deputy) PMQs: Vince tackles Harriet on Fred Goodwin’s pension

With the Prime Minister off gigging at the US Congress, it was left to Harriet Harman to stand in at Prime Minister’s Questions, and face interrogation from Vince Cable for the Lib Dems and William Hague for the Tories.

This was undoubtedly a pretty weak performance by Ms Harman (though, somewhat bizarrely, she has been lauded by the Guardian’s Nicholas Watt), who managed to come across as both flakey and humourless. She was heavily reliant on her official briefing and proved unable to think on her feet – in short, she was a perfect stand-in for Gordon Brown. However, I think Tories’ joy at Mr Hague’s performance is over-done: his performance was just as it was when he was Tory leader, polished and glib. Add that to the unpleasant braying of Tory backbenchers, and the overall impression is scarcely a positive one for the official opposition.

Vince was serious and sonorous, punchily asking some important questions about the pensions awards received by executives of the recapitalised banks. Ms Harman put forward a much more considered reply today than she managed at the weekend, under strict instructions from her boss no doubt not to make more over-hyped promises to legislate against an individual’s pension agreement.

You can watch proceedings via the BBC here, and read the Hansard transcript of Vince’s questions below:

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Cable leads Lib Dem sympathies for the Camerons

This morning’s tragic news that David and Samantha Cameron’s eldest son Ivan has died led to the suspension of this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions. Instead, party representatives offered condolences to the Camerons, with Vince Cable leading the Lib Dem sympathies while Nick Clegg is on paternity leave:

Everybody in the house has experienced bereavement but there is something especially sad and shocking about the loss of a child and we recognise, I think all of us, this is something that especially difficult to cope with.

This is a personal tragedy. It transcends all party barriers and I would simply want to express

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PMQs: The say-everything-do-nothing Prime Minister

First up, apologies for PMQs lateness once again. The more Twittery among you will know that this is not (this time) due to my being an indolent wossname, but instead due to my having been listening to and commenting on it on BBC 5Live from the most charmingly antiquated studio room you can imagine in Guildford (or any other prosperous southern town; I prescribe no limits to your imagination in this regard).

Here’s a thing – so far as I can recall I’ve never listened to PMQs before, only watched it, and I found the whole business

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PMQs: Clegg on the tax system and how it is abused

And so to our belated PMQs coverage, belated owing to my having decided to have a little snooze instead staff shortages due to the continuing adverse weather conditions.

Cameron began by toning his recent braying performances down considerably, and used two fairly calm and measured questions about protectionism to set up a telling point about the “British jobs for British workers” slogan. He correctly pointed out that it “encourages protectionist sentiment” even while Brown lectures the world on the “evils of protectionism” and zeroed in on Brown’s inability to apologise for misjudgements, including this one. But he can never resist being shrill for long. His last question ended “…and will he make a promise not to do it again?”, which just makes him sound ridiculous. The snarky schoolboy is never far away.

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Clegg set to spell out Lib Dem post-election demands

There’s a rather remarkable feature in today’s Independent – a fair and balanced feature article highlighting Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg’s town hall tours. The first part focuses on what Nick’s learned from the process, and how he feels these Q&As have helped keep him grounded as leader:

The public meetings have convinced him that all politics is personal as well as local; people want to know what it will do for them. He is straight, not flashy, very good at connecting with people, and genuinely enjoys the town-hall circuit. “It’s good to know what people are thinking; sometimes you see

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PMQs: tax liabilities of their noble lordships

David Cameron is truly the hotel lobby pianist of parliament. Oily hair, smooth smile, same old bloody tune. Can’t you just see him in one of those awful little 1950s matinee jackets? Yes you can. All over the web, in fact. And at PMQs today, he went for the old will-he-admit-blah-blah-abolishing- boom-and-bust question again.

Of course, I should be fair and say that in some ways repetition of this message is a smart move (I just wouldn’t ever let such fair-mindedness stand in the way of a good caricature). Nick Clegg makes use of the repetition technique sometimes as well, after all. Cameron’s message does get to the heart of the hubris that is characteristic of both Brown and the government in general in terms of how they have behaved with the nation’s finances. However, it also gets to the heart of the fact that the Tories haven’t got the  first clue what to do about it except point and say “nerny-nerny-ner-ner”.

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PMQs: Nick tackles Gordon on the bank bail-out

After last week’s pretty subdued start to the new Parliamentary term at Prime Minister’s Questions, there was a return to the more boisterous rough ‘n’ tumble which passes for debate in this farcical weekly charade in the interests of holding the Government publicly to account.

As is well-established, the actual content of PMQs is pretty irrelevant (which is just as well, because it’s pretty non-existent) – for the media and the Westminster village performance is all. And measured by that criterion, I thought all three party leaders could take some pleasure in how they did.

As recession reality begins to hit home, the Government’s response to it was, unsurprisingly, the dominant theme. Gordon Brown tried to slam home two messages: that Labour is doing all it can; and that the Tories would do nothing. And for once he managed to upstage Mr Cameron with a couple of slick, well-delivered one-liners:

The one thing that President Obama did not say in his speech yesterday was, “Fellow Americans, let’s do nothing.”

and, gesturing to Ken Clarke, restored to the Tory front-bench:

has the benefit now of a new shadow shadow Chancellor to help him on his way

Though that did set up Mr Cameron’s best-scripted line of the day: “The difference between this former Chancellor and that former Chancellor is that this one left a golden legacy and that one wrecked it.”

But, for me, the Prime Minister’s most impressive answer was not the rehearsed bon mots, but his graceful acknowledgement that the Government’s recapitalisation of the banks is in trouble, but that it was the best, the only, policy on the table, and it was (eventually) supported (half-heartedly) by the Tories themselves:

I was very grateful for the support that the Opposition party gave to the recapitalisation of the banks three months ago. I suppose that I should not be surprised that the minute there is a difficulty, it withdraws its support from the right proposal. The recapitalisation of the banks was the right thing to do. The right hon. Gentleman has no other policy that would replace that policy.

To my ears, the phraseology sounded very Tony Blair. Why? Because its more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger tone is just the right way to deflate Mr Cameron’s tendency towards shrill point-scoring. It also has the merit of being the truth, a powerful weapon which Mr Brown all too often neglects.

In his two allotted questions, Nick Clegg pressed two issues – first, that the Government’s response is too ambiguous to work, and secondly that it’s time for full, temporary nationalisation of the weakest banks.

To be honest, I didn’t think this was one of Nick’s best days at PMQs (although generally I think he’s a strong performer there, unfairly maligned by media hacks). To me, his questions seemed a little vague, with no examples to back them up. However, I’ve heard Nick’s sound-bite-ettes used on a number of news programmes this afternoon, while the PMQs questions he asks which I do like seem to sink without trace as far as the media’s concerned. And though I suspect this says at least as much about the poor quality of political reporting as it does about my judgement, I’m happy to concede that, in this instance at least, what matters is what works.

You can catch up with the video of PMQs here via the BBC website, the audio here via the Guardian, or read the Hansard transcript of Nick’s exchanges below:

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Psst – I’m on the BBC Record Review tonight

For those of you able to watch BBC Parliament, I’ll be appearing on tonight’s The Record Review (11pm, 12.30am, 5am etc) reporting back on this week’s first PMQs of 2009. For those of you, like me, who can’t get BBC Parliament on your telly, it’s available on iPlayer here after transmission for a week.

And it may only be a few minutes long, but, believe me, it took over an hour standing in the freezing cold to film.

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PMQs: banks, boom and bust

There have been some interesting shifts in position at PMQs over the Christmas break.

In the latter half of last year, Clegg was continuously met with Brown’s stock reply that the Liberal Democrats wanted to “cut £20bn in spending” . This required him to either let the point pass or waste his second question in pointing out that as much of the saved £20bn as was necessary would be spent on Liberal Democrat policy priorities. And the latter did no good at all because Brown simply repeated the accusation.

That particular paper umbrella of Brown’s seems

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