Cross-posted from Liberal Democrat Voice
Well I must say, there was some dazzling stuff at Prime Minister’s questions today. But for those who might have expected some light, rather than heat, to emerge; there was disappointment. The score was 5-5 in footballing terms. A dazzling draw.
Harriet Harman’s display of debating skill was particularly stunning today. Her point was very simple and powerful. 1.3 million jobs will be lost as a result of government budget cuts, says a report this morning.
David Cameron didn’t deny this estimate came out of the treasury or say that he would publish what Harman called these “hidden treasury documents”. He did make another point. So, I think Harman scored her 5 goals on this matter. 1.3 million is a devastating figure. This one will run and run.
Cameron sort of blind-sided the point by saying that the Office of Budget Responsibility forecast says employment will go up for every year of the current parliament. A strong point, but that is obviously net employment. 1.3million people losing their jobs is still devastating for the individuals and families concerned – even if, say, 1.4million people (perhaps not the same ones) are finding jobs, sometimes with a considerable period of worry between losing one and finding another.
Cameron scored his 5 goals, not for anything of substance, but for a dazzling display of debating pyrotechnics at the end of his Q&A with Harman. Re-stating that Labour have not offered one proposal for a cut, he brandished a copy of the departmental magazine from Harman’s old department of government. He said they spent £2.4million doing up the department including £72,000 each on two storey meeting pods known as “peace pods” which the magazine said give “21st century space of quality, air and light where we can relax and refuel in the natural ebb and flow”. Cameron then finished very strongly saying “they (Labour) have gone from peaceniks to peacepods and bankrupted the country in the process”.
As a piece of Commons theatrics it was stunning. Oh how they laughed. Oh how Harman mouthed repeatedly “rubbish”. But you could pull out a supposedly embarrassing element of spending for any government. Just take the insanity of “free schools” from this government. Yes, good theatrics. But I don’t think Cameron buttered a single parsnip with that display, albeit dazzling. In other words, if you’re unfamiliar with that obscure old fashioned term, he was not high on substance.
Nevertheless, in answer to a later question, the Prime Minister did deliver one good line. He was asked, again, about public sector job losses, and asked that Labour should engage in the deficit reduction process “instead of playing this pathetic game pretending that there wouldn’t have been cuts under Labour. There would have been. You announced them – you just didn’t tell anyone what they were”. He said that very emphatically. I thought it was his best line of the session.
Here is a miscellany of other things we learnt, or which happened, in this session:
The Conservatives (as part of the coalition) are now formally backing a reduction in prison places while Labour (judging by placed questions from their Kevin Brennan, Gordon Banks and George Howarth) want to keep building prisons. This situation reminds me of my favourite pub name (one in Reading, Berkshire): “The World Turned Upside Down”
Not one but two LibDem MPs asked questions! – Stephen Lloyd about language schools and Annette Brooke about having a children’s day.
Our first Green MP, Caroline Lucas, asked a question for the first time, on Afghanistan.
David Cameron paid effusive tribute to the late Peter Walker
I noticed today that the Liberal Democrat MPs all seem to congregate at one end (the lobby end) of the government benches. Safety in numbers.
David Cameron answered a question about Sheffield Forgemasters by talking about the Post Office. Eh?