PMQs: Prime Minister's tennis

Cross-posted from Liberal Democrat Voice

Prime Minister’s Questions today was preceded by Scottish Questions, with our man in the chair. So we had a real bonus today, LibbyDemmy Chaps and Chapesses ! Nick Clegg on Cameron’s right and the large granite-like figure of Michael Moore on the left. For it was indeed he – as voted “Most Handsome LibDem MP 1997 -2004” or “1997 – present day” for some, I’m told. Pass the smelling salts – the intoxication of power is overcoming me!

Talking of people on the front bench behind Cameron, they ought to realise that the camera picks them up. They seem to think if they are two or three down the line towards the Speaker’s Chair, they won’t be seen. But I saw Vince Cable massaging his temple and then yawning. And they say yawning is contagious, so thirty seconds after St Vincent showed off his fillings, Kenneth Clarke yawned. You cannot hide from the camera, all you Government yawners. And get some kip, for goodness sake!

Basically the main exchanges of the session were a sort of aperitif for the budget, if you really need one. – Which I doubt. Harriet Harman pointed out that unemployment is rising and asked Cameron not to add to it in the budget. Cameron said Labour’s plans to cut unemployment were not properly costed. Harman said that putting more people on the dole will not help cut the deficit. It’s like tennis isn’t it? Back and forward, back and forward. And the MP in the neck brace lights a Hamlet.

But Harman has hit upon a clever tactic in linking the cuts to unemployment. This will no doubt be a continuous Labour theme for the future months.

Harman asked Cameron to welcome Labour’s efforts when they were in power. Cameron replied that former Chancellor Alistair Darling’s growth figures were a “complete fiction”. It’s all getting a bit polarised isn’t it? – Each of them rushing to the opposite extreme of hyperbole while the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Harman accused Cameron of talking the economy down and hurting business confidence. Mr Cameron replied that Labour “did the economy down” when they were in power. Harman said Cameron’s attitude to Labour’s spending plans has been “less magic numbers than a magic roundabout”. Cameron responds that Labour’s leadership race is becoming like a “Star Trek convention”, adding: “Beam me up.” – All fairly cheap attempted witticisms.

Douglas Carswell seems to be getting more than his fair share of question spots at PMQs. Last time he asked a question which any LibDem would cheer. Not today. He asked why the government are proposing a referendum on electoral reform which was “not in the manifesto” but not one on further European integration “which was in the manifesto”. Crikey. Has Douglas Carswell transmogrified into “Dan Dare” Hannan? He doesn’t quite get the hang of this coalition lark does he?

David Cameron came up with an extremely good joke today (not “beam me up”). Tory Harriet Baldwin invited Cameron to visit a new hospital. The Labour benches roared/jeered. You have to read into that “roar/jeer” that they were saying that this was a cheap set-up supportive question for Cameron from a “friendly native”. After Cameron struggled to be heard, the Speaker stood up and said “Order. It is not against the rules of the House for a Government Back Bencher to support the Government; it is not that odd.”. Cameron, displaying a remarkably quick wit (I can’t believe I am praising the man so readily these days – oh, the joys of coalition!) replied “Mr Speaker, we all remember you doing that very well.”. The Speaker, John Bercow was very amused at this because he was known as a bit of a thorn in the side of the Conservative benches (he got the Speaker gig mainly because of Labour votes) when he was there. But the Tories were in opposition then, so the joke didn’t quite work but it was very funny nonetheless – in a Commons “in joke” sort of way. This is what passes for humour at PMQs. We have to enjoy any light relief on offer really, and be grateful for it.


Obama: The manager of the USA speaks…

Well I’ve watched Obama’s Oval Office speech. I still don’t really understand why he elevated the Gulf oil spill to such an august height – a national presidential address. The only way I can rationalise it, is that the mid-term elections are coming up, so he’d better do something. His approval ratings aren’t going down, by the way, whatever lazy references are made by some. And, OK, Obama certainly gave the appearance of someone in charge (although why he wants people to see him as the person in charge of such a debacle is questionable) and who knows what needs to be done.

In fairness, I think Obama did establish a connection, however corny its expression might have been, with the Gulf coast communities. I thought that the passage when he talked about the priest and the Gulf communities was a strong one.

But, overall, I was left with the thought: Why on earth did he bother? Why did he make an address about a problem, which just drew more attention to the problem?

To me, most of all this comes back to BP’s live video of the oil spill. As one wag on “Have I got news for you” said: It’s like “shagging your wife’s sister” and then saying: “I’m very sorry but here’s a video of me doing it so you can see what it looked like”. If it wasn’t for that live stream of the spill, I think most people in America would have forgotten about the problem by now.

Why the heck is Obama addressing the USA from the Oval Office about BP's oil spill?

Hopefully, once he’s spoken, we’ll find out the logic of his decision to use an Oval Office address tonight, for the first time in his presidency, to talk about the BP oil spill.

At the moment, however, I do wonder whether Obama has flipped his lid. Will this go down as an insane moment, rather like when Carter lectured the US about energy in the 70s?

At the very least, he will, after his address, one suspects, be the proud owner of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill problem. BP, sort of, owned it up til now. But once Obama gives the crisis the Oval Office seal of distinction, it’s his – 100%.

Obama didn’t use an Oval Office address for the economic crisis, or the health care reform debate, or his Afghanistan draw-down decision. So why now for a problem which many experts regard, literally, as a “drop in the ocean”?

It is baffling.