Commons sketch: PMQs

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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5 Responses to “Commons sketch: PMQs”

  1. Excellent piece; & entertaining.

  2. Ian Silvera says:

    Dan, I enjoyed this.

    My only concern is that you’re confusing the admirable virtue of pragmatism with ‘bluffing it’.

    Despite the coalition government’s double-speak, making change after change, after u-turn, is not a sign of strength. It’s a sign of weakness. Moreover, we’re seeing a rare glimpse behind the New Conservative PR machine– Cameron et al have no substance (maybe IDS is the only exception).

    Hitherto, no journalist has picked up on the eternal red herring of the Tory party’s proposals. That is, the proposal to introduce the ‘reasonable force’ clause into criminal law. There’s no need to, legal precedent shows that it’s already maintained. Alas, another sign of empty politics.

  3. Bill Pickford says:

    Loada peesh! Miliband was moribund as usal.

  4. AmberStar says:

    I’m off to watch PMQs….. it won’t be as entertaining as this article, I’m sure.

  5. theProle says:

    I can’t quite understand either the milipeed or callmeDave on this one.

    Using the retention of DNA of innocent people as a stick to try and beat Dave with is odd, as he had an obvious comeback.

    He could have said “British justice is based on the presumption of innocence. We do not believe we should extend that system to include a permanent status of “possibly guilty” for everyone accused (but never charged) of a serious crime. We do not think it right for the state to retain the DNA of innocent people, and we hold that view consistently, for all innocent people, regardless of what they may have been accused of.”

    This would have neatly lead onto a charge against ‘RedEd’ of being an authoritarian big statist, while at the same time looking strong and consistent on his policy (for once).

    So odd that Ed asked the question, and odder still that Cameron didn’t opt for an easy put-down along the lines ^^^

    Incidentally, there is no significant saving from not retaining DNA – I’m pretty sure almost all the cost associated with DNA sampling is upfront – once it is on file, it doesn’t cost money to keep it there, and no-one is suggesting that there will be a cessation of the use of DNA profiling – just a cessation of longterm retention for innocent people

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