Wednesday, 7 September 2016

PMQs Review: 7th September 2016 - The Brexit Means Stonewalling Edition

We're back for a couple of weeks before the next recess for the autumn conferences, although Labour did their best to give us a shorter recess by contriving to nearly have their annual conference cancelled. This was owing to their struggle to find a security provider that was acceptable to the various angry people who make up the party these days. G4S was unacceptable due to their links to Israel. Labour is of course in no way anti-Semitic - Shami Chakrabarti says so and they made her a peer to give this verdict extra force. Nothing says authority and incorruptibility better than ermine. Another potential security provider was unacceptable to the unions for having the temerity to say no to recognition of unions.

In the end they found a provider. This is all to the good. We may have been having an entertaining few months in politics in recent times but Labour is determined to add to this on a daily basis. Imagine what they can do at a conference.

Space prevents me going through the entire debacle that is their annual leadership election currently being contested by Chauncey and someone called Owen Smith, but suffice to say that it has not inspired. Or at least it has not inspired anyone except the thousands who throng into Chauncey's public meetings and cheer him to the rafters.

In an effort to cheer them even further Chauncey spent one of the journeys to the frozen north he was obliged to undertake making a video about how awful travelling abroad a Virgin train was. He walked along one of their modern, clean and impressive trains, past dozens of empty seats and took up station on the floor to tell us how crowded and awful it was. Chauncey's spinners missed a trick there. If only they had taken him to India and filmed it there he would have been fine. They don't have CCTV to disprove it all there either.

Chauncey has also been offering us all manner of new policies he intends to talk about in the months until his next leadership election in 2017. He will bring in a democratisation of the internet apparently. The internet is undemocratic? Isn't the internet the reason that Chauncey is leader of his party? He is also of the opinion that people need protecting from 'unjustified surveillance of CCTV.' He is aware that this is not actually the internet isn't he? And unjustified? What is unjustified? When one is making a video about crowded trains that aren't crowded?

Chauncey does seem to have a downer on the internet though, despite him being keen on posting videos to the likes of Facebook and so on. He is aware that these are American isn't he? Chauncey doesn't much like America, although he would of course deny this and call in Shami to disprove any such notion.

Among the other fascinating new ideas Chauncey has scraped from the bottom of his policy barrel is the promise of 'a massive multi-person on-line deliberation.' This is the sort of thing that Chauncey says a lot. There is the possibility that when he says this he has just shoved something into a thesaurus and found the longest synonyms he could find. He thinks it makes him sound smart and profound.

He probably thought the same when he came up with his brilliant new policy on defence and NATO. This policy he sums up as: peace and justice abroad. Brilliant! Why did nobody think of that before? Ah those cunning devils the Brits, the world will say, they have made their policy one of peace and justice abroad. Curses to them. Now we must give up our designs on the territory, markets and intellectual property of others, dispense with our ideas of selling that land at a knocked down price to great uncle Joseph and bring in the rule of law for all in a socialist state modelled on that of our friend Uncle Chauncey.

Now this may strike you as being so much kumbaya style airy fairy nonsense since you do not have the vision of Chauncey. But he is clearly a man of singular vision for he even says that we have no need of NATO, that organisation that has helped keep the peace these last 70 years with its infantile policy of collective defence. Chauncey has quite clearly seen that we simply wouldn't need this collective defence policy in which any of our allies attacked would mean we were all being attacked. Oh no. Chauncey would avoid all of that military nonsense by simply building up democratic relationships. Genius. It's that kind of thinking that brought down communism. Probably. Maybe that's why he's against it.

Oh and Chauncey is also going to ban us all from having an evening drink after work. Not that he calls it that of course. He describes it as early evening socialisation. It's wrong apparently. Unfair. Or something.

What have the Tories been doing during all of this? Well other than having a minor tiff over who gets the best office in the Foreign Office and use of Dorneywood, a splendid house in the country, at weekends, they haven't had to do too much. Labour are kind of doing it all for them. They have however more or less ruled out an early general election.

Oh and yet another minister has been caught carrying documents into Downing Street and revealing them to watching telephoto lens equipped photographers. These demonstrated that the Government is looking into creating new grammar schools. I'll get back to that on another blog.

First though for what was Theresa's second PMQs. Yes, only her second. It only seems like she has been around for a long time because her predecessor has had five holidays since leaving office. Not that this blog begrudges him a single one of them. Or George. Remember George? George who? Exactly.

Theresa has just got back from the G20 in China. Things were a little frosty there. The Chinese want to heat things up by building us a nuclear power station. Theresa has not yet offered a definitive answer on that. Or on Brexit. Or Heathrow. Or ...well you get the picture. Theresa is doing things differently. The press and the country will not get answers until she has pondered things and made decisions. Perhaps Chauncey would grill her forensically and get answers. Just kidding.

The first two questions were on the subject of Brexit and its implications on our universities and farming industry. Theresa sent platitudes in their direction.

Chauncey then got to his feet and joined in the congratulations to our Olympians and fluffed an attempt at a joke about the PM's G20 visit and her meeting with President Xi of China. Theresa revealed that the president in fact congratulated her for our having beaten them in the medal table.

And then, just for a change, Chauncey decided to ask his questions, all six of them.......on housing. Does the man realise that he can ask questions about other issues? There are other issues of concern in our troubled and troubling world. But no, he was acting like the single issue backbencher he still thinks he is. Still, at least he didn't tell us that he has the backing of half of UB40.

Slightly surprisingly the PM sounded a little lacking on detail on some of the issues that Chauncey asked her about. Not that he discomfited her in any way. He never has the wit or basic ability to follow up on her answers. He sticks to his script like a Brummie reggae band sticks to its lyrics and tries to hang on to its name. Theresa tried some humour again, managing to deliver her joke  about Chauncey's train travails with greater aplomb than he manages whenever he ill advisedly tried to tell a joke. The train has left the station and the Labour leader is on the floor she said. Well, how could she not?

She also made the wider point that Chauncey's Labour seem to be opposed to the private rental sector, a sector that provides millions of people with their homes. Sure we need more homes built - something it is to be hoped this Government will address with urgency - but the private rental sector is vital as part of the mix. The existence of bad landlords (this blogger has direct experience of that part of the private system in Dalston in London see here) is typical of the purblind attitude of Chauncey's Labour. Does the existence of a bad hospital  mean that all hospitals should be privatised?

This wasn't as clear a win for the PM as the last time, although to be fair she has been rather busy. She stumbled over her words a little and sounded less sure. But Chauncey had weeks to prepare and, given his obsession with the issue, should have all of the answers at his fingertips. Instead he simply cannot respond to her answers. She could give any answer and he would lack the skill to expose what she said. Indeed she claimed that this Government is building more homes than the last Labour government. It isn't. Chauncey said nothing.

It was left to Angus Robertson of the SNP to ask about the EU and the Single Market. Mrs May stonewalled him, arguing that she doesn't want to queer the pitch prior to negotiations. But she will be pleased that her party for the moment seems united behind her and happy. Even Bernard Jenkin is happy, especially as she confirmed that the Government believes it will be able to invoke Article 50 without the consent of parliament.

The modus operandi of Theresa May as PM is becoming clear. She is a details person, but where she lacks the detail she does what Cameron did and widens it out to a debate about the wider philosophy of politics. She sounds rather more convincing that Dave ever did when she does this, largely because she is actually a detail person and so can get away with occasions when she lacks the detail. She is, however, going to be pressed repeatedly about what Brexit means and decisions cannot be put off on a range of issues for much longer. That's when the detail will emerge no doubt. We'll see how she copes then. We have one more session of PMQs before conference season. We'll probably learn more during those.

The PM will be happy to see Chauncey reinstalled during that conference season and Labour as bitterly divided as ever, possibly with a shadow cabinet he doesn't want having been elected by the Parliamentary Labour Party. Politics is back. Not that it really went away this summer.

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