Wednesday, 14 September 2016

PMQs Review: 14th September 2016 - The Bad Grammar Edition

He was the future once. Now he is the Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead, one of the offices of the Crown by which MPs resign. Dave is no longer an MP.

There will be many more who follow him judging by the list of constituencies that are being abolished or merged with their neighbours in the long awaited redrawing of boundaries. It's a long overdue reform that will make our constituencies fairer, not that this has stopped the complaining and the accusations of gerrymandering from Labour and those who find themselves having to find new seats in an atmosphere of recrimination and bitterness. Chauncey himself is going to be looking for a new seat in which to dispense his unique wisdom. He will struggle to find one that is quite as indulgent of his special brand of 1970s socialist claptrap of course. Unless he stays in leafy, wealthy socialist north London.

Of course Chaunceyistas are furious about the redrawing of constituency boundaries, a policy that was in the Conservative manifesto, was first mooted in 2007 under Labour, was supported by the Lib Dems when they were in government and anyway is supervised by an independent body. It's all a Tory plot they all claim nevertheless. But Chauncey is doing far more to denude Labour of MPs than the Boundaries Commission. Indeed he may even strip them of dozens of MPs without the need of an election if some decide to walk out of the Labour Party. Of course this would require them to discover some cojones, which seems unlikely.

Chauncey has been leading his party now for a year. No, really, he has been leading. It's a very special kind of sandal wearing, bearded, soft shoe shuffle kind of leadership that could easily be mistaken for incompetence and bovine stupidity. Nevertheless Chauncey will likely win again in just ten days time at which point those who tried to remove him from power with their mass resignation campaign must decide whether or not to admit defeat and serve under him compliantly or continue their surly dismissal of him as a no hoper. It would be hard, surely, for them to now go into an election campaigning under a man they argued previously to be useless and a liability. But then this is politics. They could always ask the Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead for advice on how best to say one thing and then do the other within weeks.

Emily Thornberry, one of those who has no need to make this volte face because she has always been a keen supporter of Chauncey, appeared on TV at the weekend displaying the kind of competence and ability we have come to expect of senior figures in Chauncey's Labour. She couldn't actually name various international figures such as the foreign minister of France. You might imagine that actually knowing the names of the people you are opining upon is the very least that could be expected of someone shadowing the Foreign Office. But no. To think this is sexist apparently. Ms Thornberry did offer to take part in a pub quiz to prove her knowledge, but this was a clever ruse on her part. As we all know Chauncey has banned early evening socialisation in pubs and so the quiz could never happen.

Fortunately Chauncey's rival, Owen Smith, has been doing his best to illustrate that he can be just as loony as his dear leader. Smith has said that, not only would he refuse to accept the outcome of the EU referendum by keeping Britain in the EU but that he would also join the border ignoring Schengen agreement too and the jobs destroying euro. Brilliant. But again this is a clever ruse. Smith is simply showing that he is unwilling to accept democracy. Thus when the leadership election result is announced and Chauncey wins then Smith will announce that he the election is irrelevant and merely advisory and he is actually the leader after all.

Meanwhile Theresa May has started her premiership by announcing that she is going to bring back grammar schools. This has at least united Labour, especially those who were educated at grammar school and want to deny it to succeeding generations. The odd thing about the grammar schools debate is that nobody seems to deny that they are very good at the business of educating people. The argument seems to be that they tend to be too exclusive and don't educate enough poorer people. So wouldn't the solution be to create more of them rather than abolish them? Or am I, a comprehensively educated duffer missing something?

Of course the really big news of the week is that the Great British Bake Off will be taking its soggy bottoms to Channel 4. It will also be looking for new hosts as Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins are not going with it. Could this be the real reason that Dave stood down? He does look like someone desperate to get his fingers in lots of lovely, lucrative pies after all.

Half way through today's session John Bercow, the cuckolded Speaker, said that progress through today's questions had been absurdly slow. He might have said that this could be because of Chauncey's making a long winded speech rather than asking questions. To be fair he was a lot better today. This was because of the subject matter. Chauncey, a grammar school alumni - albeit not one of its greatest achievements it has to be noted since he failed his A Levels - was on safe ground. This is one of those subjects he feels passionately about. He may even have debated it at the Oxford Union for all I know, although he was never able to get in to Oxford via the academic route.

And we had a debate of sorts between the two today. Chauncey didn't have to come up with debating points of his own because they are the same old tired arguments that opponents of grammar schools always use. Some will have thought that he won today's exchange as a consequence. It won't surprise you to learn that this blogger disagrees with that assessment, although he united his normally grumpy party behind him for once.

Yes, he was better than usual. He was passionate. He even responded in some measure to what Mrs May said at times. For at times she struggled for the words to defend her position. She is taking a risk on this policy and she ought to be able to defend it better, especially against the prize hypocrites of the Labour Party.

On grammar schools this is something that Labour and the left feel passionately about, even those who have themselves benefited from a grammar school education and want the same for their own kids. Hell, Diane Abbott even sent her son to a private school for crying out loud. It's only other people's kids they want to deny a good education to. To be fair though Chauncey is so committed to the notion of non selective education that he even got a divorce over it. He is vehemently opposed to the idea that people should be in positions that best suit their talents. That is why he is clinging on to his job.

But they are simply wrong on this issue. The Government is not bringing back a grammar school system of the 1950s, as the PM pointed out. This is about offering choice and a proper academic education for those who are suited to it and who want to learn in a formal environment where such learning prospers. Those with other talents are not going to be left behind. And nobody is talking about an 11 Plus style system which leaves pupils behind labelling them as failures. There is no reason why pupils who develop later should not be moved to grammar schools later.

The one size fits all approach is a nonsense. It has never worked and is not working now. There is selection within schools and there is selection according to where people live. Live on a sink estate and you get a sink school. How is that fair?

After his final question Mrs May changed the subject - grammar schools are going to be a battle to which she is going to have to return again and again anyway - and pointed out that this may well be the last PMQs in which she faces Chauncey. She then enumerated his greatest hits: empty submarines etc. But it was the change of subject that drew the attention. Theresa is not a great debater and, though I agree with her, it has to be confessed that she was second best today against a man who struggles against Owen Smith.

But as we say goodbye to the former member for Witney, it would be churlish not to remember what a class act he was in these sessions. He was relaxed, often charming and across all the other issues. Even when he wasn't he gave a decent appearance of being. Mrs May has a decent style. She lacks his composure, she lacks his smoothness. She can be a little hesitant. When she tries to do jokes they lack Dave's panache. But overall she will likely be a better at the process of actually governing. That surely is what the country needs right now. There has been a green paper published, not a white paper. That means the government is opening a debate, this is a policy that can be changed and nuanced. That is Mrs May's style. But she's not as good at PMQs as the Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead.

This was the last PMQs until October. We're breaking now for conference season.

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