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.
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