PMQs: Handbags and put-downs

Cross-posted from Liberal Democrat Voice

It’s funny how a simple statement of congratulations on a planned wedding can’t be accepted in the Commons without a “handbag moment” (see Reeves/Mortimer) dredging up twenty year-old events. Ed Miliband thanked David Cameron for his congratulations adding “I might have to come to him in the next couple of months for advice, because I know that he knows how to organise memorable stag nights.” Ooooh!

Handbags having been safely stowed, Ed Miliband raised the matter of the stampede of British universities to join the “£9,000 club”. Cameron replied that the Office for Fair Access will decide on which universities can charge £9,000 a year. He also neatly side-stepped Miliband’s charge that the stampede could mean further cuts in the government’s funding to universities.

We then returned to a subject previously aired at Prime Minister’s Questions: when is a plod a “frontline” plod? Answer: there’s a team of experts working on that one. However, Cameron introduced a new googly into the debate on this subject: “According to Home Office statistics, if all forces achieve the current best average for visibility and availability, it would increase the number of officers available by 8,000.” Wooo!

“Two thousand police officers are being forced out under the A19 rules” rebutted Miliband. You could hear a “whoosh” as this subject flew well over the top of most people’s heads.

Miliband ended with “we proposed 12% cuts in the policing budget; the Prime Minister is proposing 20% cuts. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary said that if we go beyond 12%, that is likely to lead to cuts in front-line officers, which is exactly what is happening up and down this country.” You can’t help but thinking that Miliband has more or less won this one. But it’s getting a trifle repetitive.

“The difference between a 12% reduction and what we are proposing is the freeze in police pay and the reform of police allowances, which he refuses to support” said Cameron. Not really a Tory-type policy that, is it? – Freezing police pay and “reforming” their allowances.

I thought Cameron then came back with a riposte which Miliband deserved: “Has anyone seen a more ridiculous spectacle than the right hon. Gentleman marching against the cuts that his Government caused? I know Martin Luther King said he had a dream—I think it is time the right hon. Gentleman woke up.”

Other snippets were:

  • Greg Mulholland (LibDem) asked about the children’s heart unit review.
  • Tenuouslinkwatch: David Amess tried to link Pontius Pilate to Ed Miliband addressing crowds in Hyde Park. But it got a good quality response from Cameron: “Far from standing on the shoulders of the suffragettes, or whatever nonsense we heard at the weekend, the fact is that the Leader of the Opposition is sitting in a great big pool of debt that was his creation, and he has got absolutely no idea what to do about it.”
  • Flashman put down of the week: From Cameron to Chris Williamson (Lab): “I cannot believe that I accused the hon. Gentleman of anything because I had absolutely no idea who he was.”
  • Sir Menzies Campbell (LibDem) raised the legal and political risks of arming rebels in Libya.
  • Even though Ed Balls didn’t say anything worthy of registering in Hansard, he managed to make a spectacle of himself, earning another Flasmanesque put-down: “I may be alone in finding the shadow Chancellor the most annoying person in modern politics.” Temper, temper.
  • Malcolm Bruce (LibDem) asked about investment in North Sea Oil, following the withdraw of £6 billion of funding by Statoil.

NHS reforms: Cameron is melting – Lansley 'needs to watch his back'

News that should receive a cautious welcome from LibDems, following our conference resolution. George Eaton in the Staggers says that the reforms are slowing, while Alastair Campbell says Lanlsey should watch his back:

… the Prime Minister’s political instincts finally appear to be kicking in, and he is seeking to avert the car crash Lansley has inadvertently caused. A succession of ministers has already learned that the Prime Minister tends to let them get on with it, pays scant attention to detail during policy planning, but then finds he has to step in.
It is becoming harder and harder to find an expert voice or a vested interest (sometimes the two are combined) who thinks the non-mandated reforms will do anything other than real damage to healthcare. Cameron has had his jibe at the BMA as being just another trade union, but beneath the bravado, he is getting worried, and looking to make change.

The Dyson airblade – it blows your socks off while being very green

This is going to sound like a Dyson marketing department press release but I’ll go with it anyway. I’ve been using Dyson airblades increasingly to dry my hands in…er….facilities. They are popping up everywhere. They sort of blow your socks off while drying your hands in about half a nano second. They are the most effective, if not the only really effective, hand driers I have come across.

Putting your hands in one is like putting your hands in the jet stream of a Boeing 747.

So I joked, at first, that each one should have a live screen above them showing the Greenland iceberg melting as you use them – such were the carbon emissions which I imagined them giving off, due to their high power.

But I should not have jested in such a flagrantly unfounded way. I sat down and did a little googling and found that Dyson Airblades are so green that the Carbon Trust has awarded them a Carbon Reduction Label, the first ever given to a hand drier.

So that told me…

Here’s what the Carbon Trust say about the Dyson Airblade:

This commitment to Green Growth through design is exemplified by the Dyson Airblade™, a product the Carbon Trust has come to know well as a result of our product footprinting work with the company. The Dyson Airblade™ is ground-breaking – a design which:

  • Works by blasting a sheet of unheated air at 400 mph, to scrape water from hands in 10 seconds.
  • A small, long-life, low-energy and brushless motor spinning at 1,666 revolutions per second, the Dyson Digital motor produces enough air pressure for the Dyson Airblade™ to dry hands without the need for heat.
  • Doesn’t require a power-hungry heating element to work, unlike conventional hand dryers, making it 80% more energy efficient.
  • Avoids paper towel waste in landfills. 

Dyson approached us to learn and demonstrate how his model was energy efficient to minimise environmental impact, and to get our help to drive its carbon footprint even lower. We provided advice and data analysis using our Footprint Expert™ software. As a result of these efforts, The Dyson Airblade™ hand dryer was certified by the Carbon Trust Footprinting Certification Company; the first ever hand dryer to be awarded the Carbon Reduction Label.

When a witch turns into Macduff

Last night we saw an excellent school production of a scaled-down Macbeth. (I’m not a luvvie so there’ll be no “Scottish play” nonsense from me).

It was an excellent production – flawlessly presented with some inspiring performances. It’s a challenging play but these Year 9 students flawlessly presented their lines.

It was a delight to see a boy playing one of three witches. All of the witches were just dressed in black T shirts and trousers. So, it was a bit weird hearing the boy being referred to as “sister”. But it worked beautifully – trust me.

What was even stranger was that the boy witch then got hold of a sword and starting fighting with Macbeth. That one threw me. Try as I might, I couldn’t recall that one in our Bill’s original script.

Subsequent questioning revealed that the same boy played one of the witches and Macduff, without any costume change.

Should broadcasters claim back tax on their TV? Should we be able to use ISAs to avoid tax? Is all tax avoidance relative?

During a fascinating discussion on tax avoidance, a radio broadcaster recently revealed that they claim back tax on their TV as a business expense. “I need to watch TV for my job”, they insisted.

It’s an interesting point. How can we criticise the Phillip Greens and the Vodafones of this world for (legal) tax avoidance when we ourselves are following the tax rules to pay less tax by, for example, by investing in ISAs?

In the same programme, the broadcaster allowed themselves to be congratulated on their child winning a schools competition, the result of which is on the internet, including the broadcaster’s child’s school name. I couldn’t resist then looking up the fees for that school. £4,350 a term.

…It’s an interesting juxtaposition. Claiming back tax on one’s TV while being able to pay out £1,100 a month to educate just one child.

– Nothing wrong with either things, of course. But it is interesting.

I haven’t named the broadcaster simply because I didn’t feel comfortable doing so, despite all the above information being easily available publicly. (A quick listen and two quick Google searches did it). I feel slightly sorry for the broadcaster. Due to work commitments they were unable to see their child winning the schools competition. So, is all that money and work worth it? Well, you pays your money and takes your choice. I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes.

The desperate, crazy and disingenuous arguments from NotoAV and its supporters

1. “Fiji is changing its mind on AV”

The Prime Minister, from Hansard 9th March:

I will be campaigning hard for a no vote in the referendum. I think that it is a relatively simple argument to make. We have a system that is simple, clear and easy to explain. The alternative vote is used in only three countries. They are Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea—and Fiji is beginning to change its mind.

So that sounds as if the great populace of Fiji has decided, as one, that they can’t stand AV anymore and want it replaced, right? Wrong. Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who obtained his position as Prime Minister after the latest of four military coups in Fiji, decided to change the voting system. For its failure to hold elections, Fiji was expelled both from the Pacific Islands Forum and the Commonwealth of nations in 2009.

2. Poster saying: “He (actor pretending to be a soldier) needs bulletproof vests not an alternative voting system. Say NO to spending £250million on AV. Our country can’t afford it.”

Where do you start with this one? It’s based on the downright lie that AV will cost more money than FPTP. And if you take the poster’s statement to its logical extreme, we’d stop having elections and spend money on wars instead.

But surely, if you’re fighting for your country, you’re entitled to a decent voting system to come home to and provide the government which supports you, are you not? Or do you have to put up with an 18th century hangover just so the government can afford bullet proof vests, which they should be providing anyway?

3. “If Olympic Ski Jumping had adopted #AV Eddie the Eagle might have won a Gold”

This tweet provides an interesting insight into the thinking of some of the NotoAV supporters.

Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards came last in the 70 metre ski jump at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. The ski jump is a measured event. If you jump the longest distance you win. It doesn’t even involve judges’ scores. So how “might Eddie the Eagle have won a Gold medal” under AV?

Here are some ideas:

  • AV may have caused all the other jumpers to throw their hands up in despair and not bother to jump
  • AV may have caused an earthquake in Calgary at the moment Eddie the Eagle jumped, consuming much of the ski jump landing area. Eddie then jumped over the resultant chasm in the earth’s surface, meaning that he jumped, technically, a further distance than he actually did.
  • When he jumped, AV may have caused Eddie the Eagle to emit a self-combusting fart which propelled him into Alaska, no doubt landing in Sarah Palin’s sitting room, which would have been fortuitous because she, I suspect, opposes AV.

'Journalist imprisoned by Joe Biden' – cock-up rather than lock-up

Creative Commons License photo credit: Obama-Biden Transition Project

Reporter imprisoned in a closet at Joe Biden fundraiser” was the headline on the Gawker. Similar lurid stories zoomed a million times around the world via Twitter, Facebook, blogs and newswires.

The truth is a little less lurid. It was cock-up rather than lock-up. Here is the full story from the Orlando Sentinel reporter at the centre of the story, Scott Powers:

Take a couple details of information, toss them into the Internet and it can become like a child’s game of telephone — with each rendition adding spin and details. Only in this politically-charged environment, those spin and details can crystallize toward scandal. That’s especially true when it involves the vice president of the United States in an administration that has enraged a segment of American society.

Ed Miliband: Cometh the hour, cometh the humbug

Ed Miliband with banner
Creative Commons License photo credit: net_efekt

It is just unbelievable to read through Ed Miliband’s speech from Saturday. These are cuts which would be a bit less under Labour. And yet, with breathtaking hypocrisy, he attempts to compare the protests against them with the Sufragette movement, the US Civil Rights movement and the anti-Apartheid movement. He quotes from Martin Luther-King. He even compares the situation to the struggle by this country in the Second World War.

The hyperbole is skin-crawlingly opportunistic and totally inappropriate. To choose such rhetoric is a remarkable misjudgment.

For such vast rhetoric, Ed Miliband should now tell us how he could possibly cut the deficit to the extent which Labour has said they would, in a way which would be so different as to not be appropriate for the same condemnation.

Is he likely to do this?

Is he ‘eck as like.

Geoff Boycott treds on eggshells

A Century in Motion
Creative Commons License photo credit: VERY URGENT Photography

Updated and derantified 23:16

Boycott’s comments about Michael Yardy stray beyond commenting on his cricketing skills.

 He said of Yardy:

He must have been reading my comments about his bowling, it must have upset him.

That’s a rather mystifying comment. How could someone be launched into depression because of the views of a Yorkshire cricket commentator?

Then he says:

I’ve been, with respect, a better player, I’ve been able to hold my place in the team for Yorkshire and England, I always got picked and played pretty good. So I’ve not been in that position where my quality of play has been poor and got to me mind-wise.

Depression is an illness. It’s doesn’t happen because poor job performance gets to you “mind-wise”.

By the way, Marcus Trescothick has written an excellent auto-biography about his playing career and his battle with depression called “Coming back to me“. I recommend it most highly.

MP's husband, a fisherman, goes missing at sea

5000th post

I’d like to express my sympathy to Sheryll Murray MP and her family, on the news that her husband, a fisherman, has gone missing at sea.

Paul Waugh on PoliticsHome has quoted Sheryll’s speech in the Commons yesterday about the closure of coastguard stations, making reference to the worries of a fisherman’s wife. I think it is fitting to quote that speech in full here:

I intend to put a different slant on the debate, and I declare a special interest as the wife of a fisherman. I start by paying tribute to the men and women who man our coastguard stations, the National Coastwatch Institution, the look-out posts, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and everybody else connected with sea safety. It is because of those people that fishermen’s wives such as myself sleep a little better at night than we otherwise would.

My constituency is served by both Brixham and Falmouth coastguard stations. Last year, 1,366 incidents were serviced by Brixham coastguard station, and 2,344 by Falmouth. History seems to be repeating itself. In the early 1990s, I was the secretary of the Plymouth Sea Safety Group. The national Sea Safety Group started the National Coastwatch Institution because the look-out posts around the coast that were manned by the coastguards were withdrawn. That movement started with the opening of Bass Point in west Cornwall, as a result of two fishermen losing their lives. I do not want the same thing to happen again.

Last Saturday, seven 13 and 14-year-olds were stranded by the high tide in my constituency, while eight people were stranded by the tide in other places in Cornwall. Brixham coastguard attended the seven teenagers, while Falmouth coastguard went to help the other eight people. Such individuals do not carry VHF transponders or radios. Mobile telephones are often not within range, so they have no means of communicating or accessing the wonderful equipment with which the two coastguard stations are equipped.

Recreational vessels do not have to comply with the global maritime distress safety system, and although many have digital selective calling included in their VHF radios, meaning that they can press a button rather than broadcasting a mayday call on channel 16, I am concerned about those that do not have the equipment for our coastguard stations to track-kayaks, for example, and the little dinghies that use our coast. Strandings often happen at night.

I welcome the consultation and its extension, but when the Minister looks at the responses, I urge him to ensure that he considers replies from those who are not included in the GMDSS and do not have VHF radios with DSC. Other resources include Navtex weather reporting and navigational information, search and rescue equipment such as radar transponders-SARTs-and emergency position indicating radio beacons, or EPIRBs. Those without such things will be most vulnerable after the cutting back of local coastguard stations.

I do not believe that the coast of Devon and Cornwall can be served well by one station alone that operates from Southampton. As has been said, many names of familiar landmarks that can be used to identify a position at sea are often pronounced differently. I believe that a just a couple of minutes’ delay in a very cold sea can make the difference between someone surviving or not. Hypothermia can set in, and everybody knows that people do not survive long in cold water.

The sea can be the most beautiful place in which anybody can spend their time, but it can change quickly-believe me, I know after living for 25 years in fear of seeing the sea change overnight or within hours. One thing my experience has taught me is that we must have respect for the sea at all times. If we lose that respect and believe that we can beat the sea, we are finished.

While I welcome the extension to the consultation period, when the Minister looks at the responses, I urge him to ensure that he does not lose respect for one of the most dangerous but beautiful elements in the world. If he does, not only will he let down fishermen’s wives such as myself, the wives of sailors and other users of the sea, such as our young people, but he will let down the whole nation.