Wednesday, May 06, 2009 

Another edifying session.

It's a good thing that only politics nerds bother to watch prime minister's questions, because if anyone else had bothered to tune in today, they would have had their reasons for being completely cynical and apathetic about what goes on at Westminster fully confirmed.

Understandably, the Conservatives sense blood after Gordon Brown's last dire week. They realise that turning him into the issue is also the main way to rile him up, and few opposition leaders would have failed to mention the weekend's events with Hazel Blears' newspaper article. Even so, that Cameron used up all six of his questions personally attacking the prime minister, without mentioning either the Gurkhas again, the other tensions within Labour over the proposed part-privatisation of the Royal Mail, or the economy was low politics from those who only a couple of weeks back were calling for a complete change to the way Downing Street operated after "Smeargate".

Admittedly, prime minister's questions has long transformed from the prime minister answering questions into the prime minister not answering questions and attacking the opposition whenever the chance takes him. Gordon Brown didn't start this trend, but has done nothing whatsoever to alter it. Brown also once again resorted to the caricaturing of Conservative policy, describing them as the only politicos in the world advocating doing nothing as a strategy in the face of global recession, which is wrong both counts, but which is not as disconnected from the truth as the Tories would like.

This clearly wasn't just Cameron's strategy however, but the entire Conservative strategy. Brown himself noted that not a single Tory question concerned policy until Iain Duncan Smith stood up and asked about the Gurkhas, 28 minutes into the session. While Brown for the most part floundered, he did score a hit on Cameron regarding u-turns, especially on the "show a lot of love to children" crime policy, which has since turned into the "modern clip round the ear" law and order strategy. "That must have sounded great in the bunker!", smarmed Cameron in response. It was left to Nick Clegg to again raise substantive points, and although his calling Brown stupid was cheap, he seems to have finally settled into PMQs, making the best use of having just 2 questions as he possibly can.

The Tories who continued to pop up increasingly resembled those delightful school children who pile into a fight and aim kicks at the person sprawled on the floor. They caused much hilarity amongst themselves when Stephen Crabb stood up and made reference again to the reports of Brown throwing things around, Cameron already having done so. The only way Brown could possibly have responded to it was to either laugh it off or keep to his complaining about the personal attacks; instead he said "complaints were dealt with in the usual manner", which left the Tories falling about laughing at Brown's latest Stalinist faux pas, also resembling an admission that the stories are true. It was grim stuff, and even if the backbenchers had cheered Brown loudly in his final response to Cameron, the rest of the frontbench were clearly not enjoying it.

Only those that love to descend politics to personalities rather than policy and to insults rather than considered argument will have done. Clearly, Brown cannot complain on either front by his record, but for Cameron, who once said that he wanted to remove the Punch and Judy from politics, it was weak stuff and beneath him. The Conservatives clearly do have some sort of policy on dealing with the recession, and on most other things; they just seem to not want to expose them to any actual scrutiny. Again, that's understandable when they have clearly not finalised them and when we're still a year away from an election, but it is also beginning to suggest that they themselves have no real faith in them, and that they don't wish to scare the electorate with what their "age of austerity" will really mean. Again, the emphasis on Brown's travails has completely deflected any attention away from what the Conservatives are really offering, something that simply cannot continue.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008 


Considering that due to an unfortunate slip of the tongue we'll now be hearing about how Gordon Brown single-handedly saved capitalism for prosperity for the next decade, it's instructive that the Labour benches, obviously in need of a good laugh, found a single mother with small children visiting Nick "Shagger" Clegg so hilarious (14 minutes 40 in). Even when you consider that describing the prime minister's rapid fall from grace as going from "Stalin to Mr Bean" is about the highest form of wit that's emanated from the House of Commons in years, it's still rather surprising that what would embarrass 10-year-olds as being rather unfunny still succeeds in making them roll in the aisles in parliament. All that need have been added was the Speaker to tell those falling about to get their minds out of the sewer and everyone would have been right back in the playground.

(via Justin)

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008 

A real horror show.

Who with any sense whatsoever would be a social worker? Lambasted for taking children away unnecessarily, demonised when inevitable if horrifying mistakes are made, it must surely rank up there with opting to become a traffic warden and refereeing in the least appealing professions available.

It doesn't help of course when politicians, as well as the media and now message board ranters are in effect baying for blood. David Cameron and Gordon Brown may not have been actively calling or in effect justifying violence against those convicted of the shocking abuse of Baby P as some have today, but their use of a dead child not as a political football, but as a political corpse, as others have already justifiably defined it, was not just unedifying, it was a shaming spectacle.

Cameron opened up reasonably enough at PMQ's with asking the prime minister why the head of Haringey social services had been the one that had conducted the internal inquiry into what had gone wrong. This was perfectly fine, and more than valid a question to bring up. He should have known however that Brown was hardly likely to give a straight answer; he never does. Apart from that though decisions were obviously going to be made today on what further measures were to be taken: the inquiry in full had only just landed on the minister's desk this morning, after the trial itself had finished, as Brown explained. Ed Balls, schools and families minister, has since announced that an inquiry to be conducted by Ofsted, the Commission for Healthcare Audit and Inspection and chief inspector of the constabulary will be undertaken into the safeguarding of children in Haringey. This decision presumably had not been finalised at 12pm this afternoon, otherwise Brown would have mentioned it. In the circumstances, although Brown can be accused of not showing the empathy that perhaps his predecessor might have done, it was hardly a snub.

It was then that all hell broke lose and that both sides failed to realise just what the petty back and forth would look like to the wider country. Cameron's anger, first with the lack of an answer after the second question, coupled with barracking from the Labour MPs, led him to repeatedly slamming his finger down, getting the age of the mother involved wrong (she is 27, not 17 as he said) and finally swiping his notes completely off the dispatch box. For someone trying to claim that he's similar to Barack Obama, who throughout his campaign never appeared to lose his cool, it was a poor performance. His anger might well have been righteous, but it was never going to achieve anything.

Brown for his part was not angry, just detached and by comparison apparently uncaring. This actually probably isn't fair; undoubtedly he does care, he just was never going to win in a battle with a far more accomplished empathetic speaker. His cheap jibe though that Cameron was making a party political point was equally unfair; Cameron may be many things, but he was not at that moment doing that. It was only afterwards, with the two men facing off in an interminable battle of who would back down first, with Cameron asking for an apology and failing to get one, that the whole affair became wholly shabby and distasteful.

Parliament at prime minister's questions is of course always a bear-pit, and it always will be. For all Cameron's original claims that he wanted to end Punch and Judy politics, he's never really attempted anything of the kind. Realising that he was not going to get an answer, or at least not one then, Cameron ought to have moved on. Brown for his part should not, despite being prodded by Cameron over his tactics, have suggested that it was party political. Cameron likewise, although perfectly entitled to ask for an apology, should have again let it go. All while this was going on the barracking by MPs on both sides continued; only the speaker, almost pleading, having to intervene 3 times to silence the cat-calling, emerged with any dignity whatsoever. As Simon Hoggart writes, no one intended for it to turn out the way. Once it had however, both sides should have recognised the damage that was done not just to their respective parties and personal images, but to the further image of Westminster itself and apologised for how it had got out of hand. Instead, as Justin notes, MPs scored points and bloggers likewise did, further deciding who had came out the better. The reality was that no one did. We can and must improve upon this.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007 

Brown in the brown stuff.

Even the most disgusting Gordon Brown/Labour toady will have to admit that Cameron today/yesterday (writing this at nearly 3:30am, I'm unsure which it is) annihilated Brown at the dispatch box. This was a powerful, potent and also accurate rebuke:

Never have the British people been treated with such cynicism. For 10 years you have plotted and schemed to have this job - and for what? No conviction, just calculation. No vision, just a vacuum. Last week you lost your political authority. This week you are losing your moral authority.

He might well have been practicing it in the mirror like his speech last week for days, but it was still the most stinging and punishing exchange for quite some time at PMQ's. It's still far too early to consider it a turning point or a tipping point, though. PMQ's is all well and good for the political obsessives and the Westminster village, but it's long ceased having a mass effect across the country as a whole. William Hague was widely regarded as often trumping Blair from 97 to 01, and a lot of good it did him.

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