Posts Tagged ‘Commons sketch’

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.

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

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.

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

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.

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon