Commons sketch: PMQs

by Dan Hodges

It’s what they call a tough gig. In his short tenure as PM David Cameron has had to deal with war, international economic crisis and violent social disorder. But it’s unlikely he ever contemplated bowling up at the House of Commons to explain why his justice secretary was roaming the nation’s broadcast studios pledging to give a bunch of convicted sex offenders the keys to their cell. That wasn’t in the job description.

He took respite in the first question, from Philip Hollobone. Would the prime minister look to restore some “sanity” to Britain’s border controls. Sanity? Hell, yes he would. We don’t want lots of illegal migrants running amok on our streets. There’s no room. Especially not with all those rapists. The prime minister pledged to do lots of very tough and very sane things.

The respite was brief. Ed Miliband wasn’t going to be asking about carbon omissions today. The job of the justice secretary was to speak for the country on issues of, well, justice. And the country had pretty unambiguous views on rape. They didn’t extend to giving the perpetrators of that crime the chance to cop a plea and halve their sentence. Nor, as had been reported on radio, the drawing of distinctions between “good rape” and “bad rape”.

David Cameron’s response was to invoke the Wenger defence. He hadn’t heard the justice secretary’s comments on the radio. But his priority was to deal with only 6% of rapes leading to prosecutions and convictions. That’s what was needed. More people must be arrested and convicted. Why, given that government policy is apparently to immediately release them once that process is concluded, the prime minister didn’t say.

Next to him, Nick Clegg nodded in support. He looked a relieved man. That hoo-hah about letting speeding offenders get away scott free seemed a life-time ago.

Ed Miliband came back. Surely, the justice secretary would be gone by the end of the day? Cameron ducked. That was just typical opportunism from the leader of the opposition. The government announces that it’s going to halve  sentences for some of the most brutal and violent criminals in society, and what does the Labour party do? Engage in cheap politicking by criticising the decision. Shameful.

Ed soldiered on, determined rather than incisive. OK, the prime minister hadn’t heard his justice secretary’s views on rape. What about his own? Surely he had a view?

Cameron ducked again. Didn’t the Rt. Hon gentleman understand? Ministers were consulting on their rapists charter. He couldn’t pre-empt that. And anyway, the appallingly low conviction rates for rape had been inherited from Labour. Sexual assault had conveniently been added to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s charge sheet.

Anyway, what was Ed Miliband whingeing about? He was Ken Clarke’s biggest fan. “I remember the leader of the opposition saying at his party’s conference ‘I’m not going to say he’s soft on crime’. That pledge didn’t last long”.

Had he not already used his last question, the leader of the opposition would presumably have pointed out that not condemning out of hand the principle of liberal sentencing did not mean automatically endorsing a day pass for every nonce in Broadmoor.

In truth, it wasn’t a powerful performance from Ed Miliband. Cameron stonewalled quite effectively, and finished PMQs confidently. It didn’t matter. Out in the court of public opinion, the jury had already made up its mind.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

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One Response to “Commons sketch: PMQs”

  1. Richard says:

    It’s been a while but just seen the GMB bully boy on the box. Not surprised to see the booze is taking its toll.

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