Not a stellar PMQs from anyone this week and in general more noise than light. It began raucously enough with a Labour question on A&E and a Tory one about a referendum on Europe.
Things then calmed down as Ed used his first three questions to press the prime minister on the vitally important issue of Syria: was the prime minister sufficiently committed to the peace process, or was he putting more energy into lifting the arms embargo potentially leading to an arms race and increased bloodshed? The only commitment Cameron gave was that the Commons would have a say in any decision about arming the rebels.
This line of questioning allowed Ed to appear statesmanlike, which may well help increase people’s perception of him as the next prime minister, but left him with only three questions on the economy. He managed a few good lines pointing out that Cameron was in his fourth year as Prime Minister and couldn’t keep saying ‘don’t blame me I’m only the PM’; he quoted Andrew Bridger, Tory MP for Leicestershire North-west, comparing Cameron to a pilot who doesn’t know how to land the plane; and ‘prices rising, wages falling, and the PM telling people they are better off’ while ordinary families know they are worse off under the Tories. Cameron didn’t answer well, but did enough to please his own side and allow him to come back and finish off the session more strongly.
A score draw today. The leader of the opposition cannot win without landing a killer blow. Ed didn’t do that, but by giving half his questions over to Syria may well win a longer game. Cameron looked shifty on occasions and failed to answer questions. He was also guilty of hyperbole at best, claiming the government had taken action on blacklisting, but was able to come back unchallenged later in the session on the welfare cap, Labour’s policy on pensions and tax on political donations.
I’m going to share this honour between Chris Ruane and Seema Malhotra who both asked questions of relevance to north Wales. Chris raised the issue of 500 of his constituents in Vale of Clwyd who had been flooded last November. The government’s failure to replace the flood insurance scheme and cuts to flood defence works left them feeling ‘sold down the river’. Seema asked how the PM would stop the home buyer’s subsidy going to those buying second homes or holiday cottages. Both questions were answered with the reassurance that there would be a mechanism or scheme in place. Given this government’s record on implementation neither of these answers were exactly reassuring. Something emphasised by Catherine McKinnell’s question pointing out the bedroom tax had led to a significant increase in rent arrears and asking when the PM would realise that it was costing more than it saved.
I would also like to award brown nose of the week to Jessica Lee, Tory MP for Erewash, who asked if the prime minister remembered visiting furniture makers in her constituency and whether he thought the workers he’d met would be best helped by government policy. I’m sure you can guess what the answer to that was.
Best question, answer, comment or joke?
Debbie Abrahams was not the only one to mention it being carers’ week but her question raised the serious point of more pressure being put on hospitals by cuts to social care spending that could prevent hospital admissions in England. This is an area where Wales is taking a different approach.
Jim Dowd’s description of government minister, the 5th Viscount Young of Leckie, as a ‘horny-handed son of toil’ probably provoked most amusement on the Labour benches. But the evidence he had given to the select committee raised a serious point, where he had said that Google had a great deal of power and higher level access to No 10 than he did as a minister.