Posts Tagged ‘PMQs’

Let’s drop Harriet from PMQs and give the leadership hopefuls a go

03/06/2015, 04:06:21 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Everyone makes mistakes in politics. Some are minor, some are whoppers. Some never get noticed and some, like Harriet Harman’s woeful performance at Prime Minister’s Questions this afternoon, are public and totemic.

For a party accused of pointing a tin-ear towards the aspirational, it was ill-advised for the party’s ‘interim leader’ to lead her attack on the government’s plans for home ownership. .

Don’t get me wrong, there are many sound criticisms about the government’s plan to flog off housing association homes at knock-down prices and no shortage of venerable voices to point them out.

But by majoring on it in her exchanges with David Cameron Harriet walked onto the punch. She allowed the Prime Minister to claim Labour are “the enemies of aspiration” and turn the rest of the session into a post-election victory lap.

Referring to the two Eds, Cameron sneered: “The messengers have changed, but the message is still the same”.

The encounter was a total disaster for Labour. Yet it’s really not that difficult. Harriet could have played it safe by focusing on foreign affairs, or by goading the Tories about Europe. She could have jumped on the back of moving news stories as a means of cutting into the day’s broadcast coverage. She could have been funny, or serious.

But, instead, she was Harriet: Predictable and wobbly.

Here’s a suggestion. Rather than allow her to flounder on for the next six weeks until the summer recess, demoralising the Labour benches in the process, why not give each of Labour’s leadership contenders the chance to stand in for her at PMQs on a rota system?

Let’s see how Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh and Yvette Cooper fare against David Cameron in the afterglow of his unexpected election triumph. If they can land a telling blow on him at this point in the political cycle they will show they have the skill and heft to take him on full-time.

Rather than sinking even further into the mire of political irrelevance, let’s use PMQs for the next few weeks as a live-fire exercise to see what our candidates are made of.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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Ed Miliband’s position on immigration is incoherent and will hand Labour votes to Ukip

29/10/2014, 02:26:39 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Is Ed Miliband a Ukip sleeper agent?

At PMQs today, the Labour leader parroted Ukip’s lines on immigration at David Cameron: broken pledges to cut numbers, a system out of control, the need to be tougher; it was a miracle Miliband didn’t rehash talk of being swamped.

All the while, the Labour leader seemed blissfully unaware of the staggering, juddering, dissonant incoherence at the heart of the case he was bellowing, across the despatch box, at the prime minister.

Here are some basic facts: out of total net annual migration of 243,000 into the UK, 131,000 came from the European Union. That’s a significant chunk and represents a rise of almost 40% in the past year.

Europeans can come to the UK because freedom of movement across the EU’s member states is a central pillar of the union.

If Ed Miliband is going to make cutting immigration a centre-piece of Labour’s electoral offer, he will need to cut EU migration and that means either a change to freedom of movement or accept that Brexit is inevitable.

We can discount the former, because here’s what the new President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, had to say on the matter last week,

“We have a treaty. Freedom of movement since the Fifties is the basic principle of the European way of co-operating. These rules will not be changed.”

So presumably, Ed Miliband is about to announce that Labour is prepared to leave the EU?

Er, not so much. Here’s what the Labour leader had to say on British membership of the EU in March this year. (more…)

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Whip’s Notebook

22/02/2012, 07:00:01 AM

by Jon Ashworth

So we’re all back after our constituency week and I’m spending my time as a dutiful whip touring the tearoom, smoking room and the various other nooks and crannies hidden away in the palace of Westminster to catch up with fellow members of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

The first day back after recess always has that back to school feel and we’re all eager to swop stories of what we got up to. Talking to colleagues, I’m struck by the extent to which unemployment is affecting all our constituencies in similar ways.

Last week we learnt that unemployment, youth unemployment, over 50s unemployment all rose again across Leicester South. I’m not surprised. In recent months, I’ve found more and more people turning up at my advice surgery desperate for any guidance I can offer to help them find work. Almost every Labour MP I’ve spoken to this week tells a similar story.

And yet we have a government that is completely failing to show any grip and put in a place any strategy to deal with the unemployment crisis so many areas of the country now face. I’m well aware it’s so clichéd to remind Labour Uncut readers that Norman Lamont twenty years ago famously said “unemployment is a price worth paying” but I’ve become convinced that the government’s complete lack of action in tackling unemployment suggests that David Cameron probably harbours that attitude even he is not so gauche as to say it in the way his former boss did.

Take for example when I asked Cameron at PMQs when he had last met a young unemployed person, I was amazed he couldn’t answer. What’s more neither he nor George Osborne could tell me when they last visited a jobcentre plus office. Instead of organizing Downing Street summits on the wretched and disastrous health bill, where are the Downing Street summits on youth unemployment? Where are the meetings out in unemployment hotspots to find out what needs to be done?


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Cameron’s PMQs boasts unravel again

20/01/2012, 08:03:46 AM

by Atul Hatwal

In what is becoming a regular fixture at prime minister’s questions, another one of David Cameron’s answers has unravelled as the facts have come to light.

Scrabbling around for a response to Ed Miliband’s attack on the catastrophic 8% rise in unemployment over the past year to 2.7 million, the prime minister wheeled out his government’s commitment to training, highlighting the small 1% fall in long term unemployment in the last quarter from 867,000 to 857,000.  He stated,

“Any increase in unemployment is disappointing… That is why we are taking so much action to try and help people to get back into work… It is…noteworthy that there is a small decrease in long-term unemployment. I hope that shows that schemes such as the work programme that the government are introducing are beginning to have an effect”.

But Uncut can reveal that despite the prime minister’s boasts of action to boost training, his administration has actually cut the number of places available by 26%, from 141,000 to 96,000 over the past year.


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A letter from a commuter

12/01/2012, 08:00:30 AM

by Peter Watt

Dear Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband,

I just got in from work, and catching up on the news I saw that the two of you had another spat at PMQs today. It got me thinking and I feel the need to share something with you. You may need a bit of imagination, but bear with me.

It is early in the morning, a cold and wet day. You are tired, the kids went to bed fractious and woke early. You are rushing to get the train for work and when you get to the station there is a queue. What do you do, go to the machine or try the counter? Your heart starts to beat faster as the clock ticks towards the arrival of your train and the queue is moving slowly. Finally you get your ticket and if you had the time you would make some witty ironic reference to the ticket vendor about the absolute bargain that the several hundred pounds for your monthly season ticket represents.

With seconds to spare you race up the stairs, past the pool of vomit, broken bottle and smell of stale urine. The train doors open and you and several hundred other people attempt to board an already overcrowded train. Several hundred pounds on a ticket and there are no seats. Instead you seem to have paid for a column of space that is slightly wider than you. Move even slightly in any direction and you will invade someone else’s space. The train smells of wet dog, assorted perfumes and at least one person in breathing proximity had too much to drink last night, followed by a kebab. Still at least it is only a short journey.


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Slow, weak and out of touch – Cameron needs answers fast

18/07/2011, 07:00:44 AM

by Michael Dugher

Incumbency in office provides tremendous advantages.  The Tories have always understood this. Seeking out ways to change the rules of the game to benefit them in the future (boundary changes, proposals for changes in party funding, may all be cases in point).  There are also public relations benefits of being in government too, as David Cameron understands very well.  If you are the prime minister, when you organise a barbeque and invite the leader of the free world to share a burger or a banger, the pictures look great and they are beamed out by a grateful media.   Also, in government, you make the news.  In opposition, more often than not, you have to get into the news.  But government can have its downsides too.

In government, it can sometimes feel like you are trying to steer a heavy goods vehicle, rather than drive a light and nippy sports car.  Without strong leadership, there is always a danger, in managing the big beast that is Whitehall, that decision-making can be sluggish and slow, bureaucratic not political.  No 10 can provide a great backdrop for a photo-op, but it can also sometimes be like a bunker (trust me on this).

As the “firestorm” surrounding phone hacking and news international has raged, Cameron has proved hopelessly slow to react.  Worse, he has seemed unwilling to take necessary decisions quickly, to get a grip of the problem and to set the agenda going forward.  Just 15 months after taking office, he has already become a prisoner of the civil service mentality, an approach that can – at its worst – be based on the premise that everything is terribly complicated and difficult and therefore it’s probably better not to say too much or get too involved.  But most seriously for the prime minister, he has failed utterly to understand the depth and the scale of public anger and what therefore needed to be done as a matter of urgency. (more…)

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Commons sketch: PMQs

13/07/2011, 01:53:18 PM

by Dan Hodges

Westminster. Noon. Prime minister’s questions.

Or was it? The Commons was agog with anticipation. Would he show or wouldn’t he?

David Cameron once bestrode the chamber like a colossus. Back when the News of the World was Britain’s best selling newspaper, the Metropolitan Police was still renowned for its tenacious and fearless pursuit of criminals, and Kay Burley and Adam Boulton were united in mutual professional respect.

Not any more. Over the past week there’s been more chance of spotting a unicorn standing at the House of Commons dispatch box than the prime minister.

Some wild rumours were flying.  David Cameron would be unable to attend because of a pressing prior engagement; like a speech on the big society, or washing his hair. William Hague would be standing in. Or poor Jeremy Hunt.

Personally, I was hoping he’d send Andy Hayman. “Nah, nah. I’m not ‘aving it. I’m not letting the right honourable gentleman get away with that”.

Sadly it wasn’t to be. Just before twelve a familiar figure appeared and took his seat on the government benches.

At least, it appeared it be a familiar figure. It looked like David Cameron.  Spoke like David Cameron. Went pink in the face like David Cameron.

But could it really be him? Only the week before the old prime minister had accused Ed Miliband of opportunism for attempting to link phone-hacking to Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB bid. Yet according to the new guy “It has become increasingly clear that while everybody to start with wanted in some way to separate what was happening at News International and what was happening at BSkyB that is simply not possible. What has happened at this company is disgraceful, it should be stopped at every level, and they should stop thinking about mergers and sort out the mess they’ve created”.

Old Dave had refused to call for Rebekah Brooks to resign. The new fella seemed to think she’d already done so, and what’s more, he welcomed it; “She was right to resign. That resignation should have been accepted”.

If Ed Miliband was fazed by the appearance of this prime ministerial doppelganger he didn’t show it. Then again, he’s undergone a bit of transformation himself. This time last week many in his own party were accusing him of being the new Ramsay McDonald for his betrayal of striking public sector workers. Today the public sector workers could go hang. The only pensions the Labour party was interested in were those of Murdoch and Brooks. And it wanted them drawing them in double quick time; “It would be quite wrong for them to expand their stake in the British media”, Miliband said, “Rupert Murdoch should drop his bid for BSkyB, should recognise the world has changed, and he should listen to this House of Commons”.

New Cameron agreed. He welcomed the cross-party approach being adopted by the leader of the opposition.

Ed Miliband rose again. This time he was wearing an expression of almost pained sincerity that left no one in any doubt that the time for cross party consensus  was over. Could the prime minister clear up one specific issue. Why was his former press secretary Andy Coulson a liar, a cheat, a blagger, a bounder, a baby snatcher, a forger, a cattle rustler, a grave robber and a teller of tall tales. Oh, and why had the prime minister been so unbelievably stupid in employing him?

Last week this sudden switch from civility to attack had thrown David Cameron. But that was a lifetime ago. And New Cameron was ready.

When Coulson had been employed he’d given him assurances. Not only that, he’d given those same assurances to the police, a select committee and under oath to a court of law; “if it turns out he lied it wont just be that he shouldn’t have been in government, it would be that he should be prosecuted. But Mr Speaker, we must stick to the principle that you are innocent until proven guilty”.

It may be that Ed Miliband was expecting a more evasive response. Or that in the excitement of the last week, he’s begun to believe Cameron was a broken opponent. For whatever reason, the confidence visibly began to drip away from him; “Mr Speaker, he just doesn’t get it”, he said, falling back on that well worn phrase he uses when he can’t think of a more spontaneous riposte. The Tory back-benches, sensing it, bayed in relief.

“I’m afraid, Mr Speaker, the person who is not getting it is the leader of the opposition”, responded New Cam. “What the public want us to do is address this firestorm. They want us to sort out bad practices at the media. They want us to fix the corruption in the police. They want a proper public enquiry”.

The world had indeed changed. But maybe not quite as much as we thought.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

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Commons sketch: PMQs

06/07/2011, 01:33:42 PM

by Dan Hodges

It must have been a bit like this in Paris in 1793. The cruel expectation. Morbid anticipation. Come, witness the brutal righteousness of the mob.

For years MPs had lived in fear. Of the late night phone call, or knock on the door. “I’m calling from the News of the World. We’re running a story about you tomorrow, and I wondered whether you’d care to respond”.

Not today. The chamber was packed as MPs fought for the best position to view the spectacle. On the Labour front bench Harriet Harman took out her knitting. On the other side Ken Clarke was handing out souvenir postcards.

Then in walked David Cameron. Head of the Committee on Public Safety. Directly opposite sat Ed Miliband, his deputy. It’s an open secret the two men are bitter political rivals. But the Head of the Committee was confident that for now they would unite in the interest of the people against the common foe.

The prime minister pulled himself up to his full height. He looked sober and statesmanlike. Just as his former advisor, ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson, had taught him.  Phone hacking was ‘absolutely disgusting’, he said. Everyone in the House and in the country would have been ‘revolted’ by what they’d seen and heard on the television screens.

It was a strong sound-bite, and Cameron sat back down confidently. His attack on the newspapers would read well in tomorrow’s newspapers.

Ed Miliband rose. The actions of the NOTW were, ‘immoral and a disgrace’. His delivery was strong and measured. His own senior media advisor, former News International journalist Tom Baldwin, had also prepared him well.

The prime minister’s assurances on a public and independent enquiry into the actions of the media were welcome. But what about other issues? Such as the impending BSkyB bid? He had argued it should be dealt with by the competition commission, not the new revolutionary council. It was what the people were demanding.

Cameron looked uneasy. It wasn’t supposed to be him on trial. As the crowd began to bay his face reddened. There were laws. They had to be followed. His rival was opportunistically playing to the gallery, ‘I note that the leader of the Labour party said yesterday that the issue of competition and plurality is a separate issue’.

Ed Miliband shook his head slowly. Weak. Very weak. The people do not like weakness. ‘The public see a major news organisation in this country where no-one appears prepared to take responsibility for what happened’, he said. There was no denial that Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked. ‘Nobody is denying it happened on the watch of the current chief executive of News International, who was editor of the newspaper at the time. Will the prime minister, if he believes in people taking responsibility, join me in saying she should take responsibility and consider her position?’.

There was now fear in the prime minister’s eyes. What about due process. It had to be followed. We should let the police do their work.

It was useless. By now the mob was in full cry. And the mob belonged to Ed Miliband.

‘These events show a systematic set of abuses that demonstrate the use of power without responsibility in our country’, he said. It was in the interests of the public and democracy that these issues were sorted out. The Head of the Committee on Public Safety, ‘hasn’t shown the leadership necessary today. He hasn’t shown the leadership necessary on BSkyB. He hasn’t shown the leadership necessary on News International’.

David Cameron sat silently. Behind him, sunlight glinted upon cold steel.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

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Commons sketch: PMQs

22/06/2011, 01:54:28 PM

by Dan Hodges

David Cameron is for turning. We know this because he spent the whole of PMQs telling us he is.

Would the prime minister, Kerry McCarthy asked, consider changing his evening viewing plans to watch a BBC documentary on child poverty? Oh yes, he most certainly would.

He would? Blimey. Poor Samantha. “Sorry love, I know we’re supposed to be going for dinner and a show, but I promised some Labour back bencher from Bristol East I’d stay in and watch a programme on impoverished children. All part of my new pragmatic leadership style I’m afraid”.

Ed Miliband sensed an opportunity. The country was at war. The defence chiefs were raising concerns about the mission in Libya. Quite serious issues like not having any planes, ships or guns. Would the prime minister look again to see whether our brave boys and girls had the tools to finish the job?

Look again? Was Ed Miliband kidding? This was pragmatic Dave he was talking to. “We’ve had a review of the national security and defence review”, said the PM proudly.

Reviewed the review? Labour’s leader looked astounded.

Perhaps he was toying with the image of a former Tory Prime Minister standing at that same dispatch box; “We will review them on the beaches. We will review them in the fields and on the landing grounds. We will never stop reviewing”. It would come as news to the military and defence community that all these reviews were flying around, Ed Miliband said. Why hadn’t the results been shared with the experts?

Share the reviews? With experts? David Cameron looked perplexed. He had set up the national security council. It sat weekly, something that came as a relief to those of us worried the defence of the realm took a break for Wimbledon. Its’ role, he said, “was all the time to ask have we got the right resources, do we have the right strategy”. He could have added that the answer to those questions was invariably no, but there wasn’t time. There were more u-turns to me made.

Would the prime minister look at the closure of the post office in Wick asked John Thurso? Stupid question. Of course he would.

Then Ed Miliband sprung his trap. OK, if the PM was so open to persuasion, what about his decision to let rapist run amok on our streets? Actually, it was a little bit more nuanced than that, something about retaining a DNA database of totally innocent people, on the off-chance they turned into crazed rapists at a later date.

David Cameron looked nervous. How pragmatic could he afford to be? More importantly, how pragmatic would George Osborne, sitting menacingly beside him, allow him to be? Stopping rapists costs money. Stopping innocent people who might one day become rapists would cost even more.

He glanced to his left, as if looking for help from someone who understood the intricacies of your average DNA database. Then he realised the man in the know, justice secretary Ken Clarke, wasn’t in his usual place, but jammed right at the end of the government front bench, away from prying eyes. That made his mind up for him. “There’s always room to see if the system can be improved”, answered the prime minister.

The ground for a new u-turn had been laid. By this time next week anyone accused of so much as shoplifting will have their DNA retained for posterity.

It’s called the politics of pragmatism. And it’s working. For now. But every u-turn leaves another tiny, imperceptible chink in the prime minister’s authority.

David Cameron cannot run away from his own decisions  for ever.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

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Commons sketch: PMQs

18/05/2011, 02:40:49 PM

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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