(D)PMQs verdict: Come back Dave

14th March, 2012 1:02 pm

Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.  We may have a PMQs format that is uninspiring and tends towards that “YA, BOO, GRRR” style of ‘debate’. And we may have a Prime Minister who seems almost pathologically incapable of answering a question. But he’s a paragon of transparent virtue when placed alongside the Deputy PM.

You’d think Clegg would be better at taking a baracking than this. His regular DPMQs sessions (of which this was merely a more elaborate version) are well attended. They provide an opportunity for miffed right wingers behind him and aggreived left wingers in front of him to tear a strip off the most unloved many in Parliament. And in fairness to him – and I’m rarely fair to him – he has been getting a bit better in those sessions. He rolls with the punches. He shows an occasional sense of humour.

None of that was in evidence today.

Clegg was happy to mention protests at his own conference, despite it being held in an area – the North East – where only two years ago they were a credible second party. Now they’re toast. Because the old trick of running to the left of Labour won’t cut it anymore. And yet that’s exactly what he tried today, attacking Labour’s privatisation agenda, and its relationship with the city. A cheap trick, and one that falls apart on its first reaction with reality. This after all is a man propping up a full-blooded Tory government, with no real concessions.  The only thing he’s to the left of is the cabinet. And even then, that’s not certain.

Question after question was responded to with further questions. Surely Cleggy has sat solemnly through enough of these outings by now to udnerstand that he’s supposed to answer the questions, not ask them. Then again, if you’re learning at the knee of David Cameron you might not have picked that up. What Nick really wanted to use today’s session to do – bizarrely – was to pin the blame for Labour government decisions on Harriet Harman. She’s was Brown’s Deputy after all.

Poor Nick. It seems that he’s the only person in Westminster who realises that the Deputy doesn’t really make the decisions. Someone should tell him, it might help avoid further embarrassment.

Clegg’s lacklustre performance ensured that this (not really a) PMQs was a flat affair. To continue with the usual theme of tortured sporting metaphors, it was like watching the League Cup. It’s still football, many of the same players are there, but that’s where the similarity ends. The passion appears forced. The result is irrelevant. It’s questionable whether this even counts as “a good work out” for the participants. Even the crowd aren’t that bothered.

There was one good line from Harman that appeared to wound Clegg, comparing him unfavourably to Liberal giants of the past. However it’s a false comparison. Clegg actually comes off quite well when compared to David Steel or Menzies Campbell. The problem is actually that there are few giants in British politics anymore. How well do current Labour figures compare to Kier Hardie, Clement Attlee, Barbara Castle or Nye Bevan? How does Cameron compare to Churchill? The comparison is false, and only serves to re-inforce the fact that our politics and our politicians look Liliputian compared with their forebears.

And after a lackluste, reserve team outing like today’s, that’s not something we needed to be reminded of.

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  • charles.ward

    “Because the old trick of running to the left of Labour won’t cut it
    anymore.  And yet that’s exactly what he tried today, attacking Labour’s
    privatisation agenda, and its relationship with the city.  A cheap trick,
    and one that falls apart on its first reaction with reality.  This after all is a man propping up a full-blooded Tory government, with no real concessions.”

    Clegg contrasted Labour’s policy with respect to private involvement in the NHS (a skewed market in favour of private providers) with the coalition policy of a fair market where the patient gets the best care at a given price with no subsidy for private providers.  All you can come back with is that because he is in coalition with the Tories his policies must be more right wing that Labour’s.  “Four legs good, two legs bad.”

    How about an argument on the substance of the Health Bill?  Why are Labour scared to debate the content of the bill?

    • Billedmunds

      If only Government Spokesmen hadn’t been attending meetings with Private Healthcare Providers and Insurance Companies and had not been telling them about the possibilities for massive profits once Lansley’s changes were made I might be able to believe this codswallop.  Unfortunately in order to make the changes Tory Spokesmen have been active in contacting the profiteers from the Privte Sector.

      • charles.ward

         If the patient gets a better service for the same cost to the taxpayer who cares if the private provider makes a profit?  Or are all profit making companies inherently evil in your eyes?

        • AlanGiles

          *If* – I seem to remember when John Major privatised the railway network (because he had a nostalgia for the liveries of the post 1948 big 4, to go with his “old maids cycling to church”), we were going to have a “better”, cheaper railway. John McGregor said it, Brian McWhinney said it – many times (remember them?)

          Did we?

          Even Mrs Thatcher drew the line over that – with good reason.

          In the case of the NHS reforms, it looks worse because Lansley has been earning money for years from private healthcare companies, so his impartiality is highly dubious, and also, I very much suspect like Lansley, a lot of the supporters of this risky scheme have private health insurance anhyway, so it won’t really matter go them if it does end up badly.

          • charles.ward

             Again a complete failure to discuss the substance of the bill.  A diversion to rail privatisation then an ad hominem attack on Lansley. 

            Is there anyone here who is prepared to attack the bill based on what’s actually in it?

          • AlanGiles

            Charles, I was using the example of another privatisation that industry experts warned against, but Major was so pig-headed it had to be done.

            We all know rail services are no cheaper and frankly no more efficient than before.

            “Attack” on Lansley? (“ad hominem” or otherwise)  – since when has stating a known  fact been an “attack”, Charlie? (unless of course he is ashamed or embarrassed about it, then   that is his problem not yours or mine):Here is a man who has consistently advised and been paid by the private healthcare companies, for many years, and we are supposed to believe he is not influenced by that?. You might be naive Mr Ward but most of us are not.
            And – for the record – I equally condemned Milburn and Hewitt for being too close to the private healthcare industry when they were health secretaries. A conflict of interests is to be abhored, whichever party is involved.

          • charles.ward

             “Charles, I was using the example of another privatisation that industry
            experts warned against, but Major was so pig-headed it had to be done.”

            This is a poor argument, it’s essentially:

            1) the rail privatisation was a failure
            2) the bill allows for more private sector involvement in the NHS
            3) therefore the bill will be a failure

            It ignores the fact that rail privatisation and the NHS reforms are fundamentally different and also that many privatisations were a success (implicitly accepted by all major parties, including Labour, as they don’t intend to renationalise these industries).

            ‘ “Attack” on Lansley? (“ad hominem” or otherwise)  – since when has stating a known  fact been an “attack”, Charlie? ‘

            Look up “ad hominem” on wikipedia (particularly the Circumstantial section) and you will see why this is another poor argument.

            Still no discussion of the contents of the bill I see.

          • AlanGiles

            Charles I can’t be bothered to waste my time on somebody being deliberately obtuse, but I will try to put it as simply as I can:

            Rail privatisation – experts such as Christain Wolmar Tory MP Robert Adley, a whole host of experts within the  industry, all forecast that it was a bad project.

            NHS: You have doctors, nurses, professional bodies from all disciplines in medicine all urging caution, but the minister (in the pay of the PHI whether you want to admit it or not) blithely disregards them.

            If to put it bluntly, he fouls it up, all that will happen to him will be reshuffled to another post, or return to the back benches followed by a title,  no doubt – the damage it will do to patients who do not have or cannot afford Private health insurance, is incalcuable.  It won’t take long to demolish an institution that has taken over 60 years to be built up. The trouble with politicians is that they are vain and arrogant, and think they know it all, when they know very little.

            I daresay you yourself have private cover which is why you are so complacent about it.

          • charles.ward

            Again you fail to address the point that the NHS reforms are  completely different to rail privatisation.  The fact the rail privatisation was unsuccessful does not show that the bill will be unsuccessful any more than the success of other privatisations prove that the reforms are a good thing.

            The fact that some employees of the health service oppose the reforms does not show that the reforms are bad.  If the bankers opposed banking reform would you say “well they know what they’re talking about, lets scrap it”.

            “I daresay you yourself have private cover which is why you are so complacent about it.”

            I do have private cover, I don’t think I’ve ever applied for a job after I left university that didn’t offer it.  However, none of my extended family have private cover.  None of my siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, parents or grandparents have ever had private cover.

            The idea that I want to destroy the NHS when my family depends on it is deeply offensive.

            I may think your view of how the NHS should operate is wrong or even profoundly damaging but I don’t think you want to deliberately destroy the NHS.  I would be grateful if you would extend me the same courtesy.

            So, for the fourth time of asking, how about you explain why specific measures in the bill are wrong.

  • After reading this I assume there was nothing much coming back from the opposition.
    Another thing it might be a good idea to have a proof reader.

  • GuyM

    I thought the problem today for the coalition was that Clegg gave Harman a good working over and actually had quite a lot of Tory MPs on his side by the end as well. Cameron might need to take note.

    I have to say I disagree with e notion that a PM (or deputy PM) just has to sit and take political abuse on any issue and very narrowly framed questions with no warning and somehow bend the knee to whoever asked.

    I think PMQ’s is less question and answer and more a debating forum, as such if the opposition want to get very political and in your face then I think it’s ok to give it back.

    Labour have been trying to get a free ride on the NHS. They can’t state which bits of the bill they are actually agaisnt and a lot of the measures where started by them anyway. Clegg gave dear old Harriet a rough time on some points and she looked very uncomfortable at times.

    Some of the replies into the Daily Politics, plus the analysis after is at complete opposites to your view of it Mark. Before hand I thought Tory MPs might give Clegg some grief, as it turned out I suspect he has more of them onside after today. He stood up for the NHS bill and gave as good as he got, if not better as was shown by a surprisingly subdued Labour front bench.

    Personally more of today every week and I’d be happy. Cameron needs to watch and adopt a bit of today I think. He has the style and put downs, now he needs to take it back into Millibands face over Labour’s deceit on the NHS.

  • Brumanuensis

    I think you’re being most unfair on the League Cup. This year’s final was an absolutely cracking game of football, with more thrills and twists than most FA Cup finals.

    As for (D)PMQs, well, as the kids say: ‘meh’. I think Clegg got as good as he gave and the same for Harman. It was never going to be a particularly interesting affair. Best question undoubtedly Dennis Skinner’s, even if Clegg did ignore it.

  • bustop

    Thought Harman was too wooden – didn’t respond to Clegg when he left himself open but rather referred to “script”. 
    I am desperately trying to find out and understand Labour’s stance on Secret Courts and Ken Clarke’s proposals.  Even Daily Politic suggested it could have come up at PMQs today.
    The Daily Mail are slaughtering Tories over it why aren’t Labour!

    • Brumanuensis

      Quite right. Where the hell is Sadiq Khan when you need him?

  • Clegg is despicable. Nothing much more to say about this odious creature.

  • Amberstar39

    Am I the only person who cares that Nick Clegg publicly ‘threatened’ that the LDs would block the boundary commission changes, if reform of the Lords is impeded by the Tories? This is a fairly big deal, is it not? It could save a lot of Labour & potential Labour seats, if the changes can’t go ahead.

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