Wednesday, 18 January 2017
PMQs Review 18th January 2017 - The Irony Lady Edition
There was an opinion poll done at the weekend. So what? you might well ask. Well you will have noticed that the NHS is having a crisis at the moment, which is to say that the media (particularly the BBC) have decided to talk about the pressures on the NHS a lot because that is a January tradition along with booking summer holidays and going on faddy diets that leave you so hungry that you put on more weight than you gained over Christmas. Anyway, it is fair to say that the Government is not handling the NHS 'crisis' especially well, although what they could do about it is a moot point. Last week Chauncey, for once showing himself to be at the cutting edge of public opinion, asked six quesitons of the PM on this issue, the default option for Labour when Labour is struggling. The result? Labour is behind the Tories on managing the NHS. This an achievement right up there with the very greatest recipients of Darwin awards. They should give special mention to Chauncey alongside the man who blew a bubble gum bubble, had it pop all over his face and caused him to crash his car killing him. Alongside that kind of idiocy is the Labour leader who has contrived somehow to be less trusted than the Tories on the NHS.
Of course the PM has had a big triumph this week. It has been announced that she will appear on the cover of Vogue. It is not clear if she will be wearing her leather trousers. Oh and she also gave a speech.
During the PM's big speech yesterday the BBC cut to a shot of Chauncey and Diane Abbott watching the speech and taking notes. I have to admit that I sniggered. It was just a funny image given what we know about their fundamental incompetence and inability to deliver a coherent message over the course of a single day.
Presumably I was not alone in finding this risible. When the BBC then cut to Chauncey opining on Mrs May's newly announced speech it was difficult to take seriously the man who just last week as part of his big relaunch announced one policy in the morning and then announced three more in the afternoon. Labour are for our being in the Single Market. Except when they are not. And if the EU plays hardball and won't do a deal? They are opposed to the stated policy of making Britain more competitive with Europe by cutting taxes and regulation. By today they will probably have announced a different approach on that too. Just to be fair minded.
At the weekend Chauncey seemed to be in the process of announcing a new policy on nuclear power. Entirely coincidentally there is a by election coming soon in which Labour will be defending a narrow majority in a constituency which is home to Sellafield.
What then would Chauncey choose to talk about today? His new enthusiasm for nuclear power? His new enthusiasm for controlling immigration, unless of course Diane Abbott is sitting near to him? We should start a sweepstake. Maybe that was what they were writing in their notepads during the big speech. With a political colossus like Ms Abbott to guide and influence him how can it be that Chauncey is doing so badly in the polls?
Today, somewhat surprisingly, the confused old gentleman on the opposition front bench wanted to talk about Europe and yesterday's speech. Why surprising? Well for anyone else it would be the obvious choice. The problem for Labour and for Chauncey is that he clearly doesn't really understand any of it or have any clear policy for what Labour would do if the world imploded on an existential level and he were to become PM.
Happily some kind advisor, maybe even Diane Abbott herself, had written out Chauncey's questions for him. This is all very well but he doesn't really seem to understand these questions. Thus any answers must be a strange kind of mystery to him in much the same way that his leadership and policies are mysteries to the people of Britain.
Chauncey tried to complain about the PM having given her speech yesterday in a hall in London to an audience of dignitaries and journalists rather than to parliament. It's a nonsense point. It was a major occasion and one that was addressed to the country and indeed the rest of the world. Presumably MPs do have TV sets. They also have phones. Labour MPs often spend their time looking at them instead of listening to their leader.
Chauncey then proceeded to make the same point in his second question. This was an excuse to make a weak joke about her being the irony lady rather than the iron lady because she was talking of empowering parliament outside parliament.
Mrs May then read out some of the remarks that Chauncey made in response to her speech. He had made copious notes in front of the TV cameras but was still confused. As the PM pointed out, he was complaining about the PM wanting access to the single market and then said that he wanted the same thing. People are confused about the Single Market. Access to the Single Market is what any country has. Membership of it is different and distinct. I will be happy to sit down with Chauncey and Diane and explain this if it helps. Would general remedial classes be a good idea for the Labour front bench?
Chauncey then turned to one of his favourite subjects, the mooted cutting of Corporation Tax if we fail to get a deal with the EU and need to compete with it. Chauncey mentioned a sum he had clearly plucked out of the air. Nobody has said that Corporation Tax will be cut, although it should be cut regardless. It has been mentioned as a possibility. However it would be cut so as to attract companies to Britain. It's a very straightforward proposition. Again, shall we make an appointment for me to explain it to him? We can do it on FaceTime if he prefers.
And then he committed his third gaffe of the session. He wanted to know about frictionless access to the Single Market. The PM did not laugh out loud at him. A LOL would have been appropriate. She simply pointed out to him, in a kindly way, that frictionless access is about borders, not the Single Market.
And Chauncey kept banging on about paying for access to the Single Market. How much would this be? Again Mrs May, instead of pointing out that the negotiations haven't started yet and so it is impossible to know, kindly patted him on the head and said there there. Maybe go and have a lie down or take some pictures of drain covers to relax.
The PM was stronger today than on any previous occasion since her very first outing. This was because it was mostly about Brexit and she and her government, contrary to the narrative of recent months, has a plan and she has outlined it. She has done her homework. She said it herself in response to one of Chauncey's obtuse questions about something he didn't really understand: 'There is a difference between us and it's very simple,' said the PM across the dispatch box at a snivelling Chauncey. 'When I look at Brexit, or any other issue, I consider it, I set out my plan, and I stick to it. It's called leadership. He should try it some time.'
This was in contrast to a confused line from all of the other parties, with the possible exception of the Lib Dems who weren't called upon to contribute. Labour is all over the place, the Tory remainers are all over the place, the SNP continues to whinge and moan and try to find any excuse to call a referendum, or at least talk about it to appease their headbangers. Angus Robertson puffed himself up to full sanctimonious outrage because England is forcing Scotland out of the Single Market. He was then deflated by the simple point made by Mrs May. The SNP wants to take Scotland out of the UK and with it the Single Market. It is a simple and easy to understand argument. It's why there will be no Scottish independence referendum any time soon. Because they would lose.
But the main story of the day was Labour's utter drift and pointlessness on Brexit. Chauncey was simply hopeless today. He tries to disguise his ignorance and incompetence by shouting a lot. Every once in a while he says something about the NHS to try and rally his troops. That is the only time he sounds half convincing. Today he sounded like one of those confused members of the public the BBC patronisingly interviews in vox pops during any report concerning Brexit to try and convince us all that it is a dreadful mistake. Labour's line is that it is a dreadful mistake, unless you think it isn't a dreadful mistake and you live in a constituency where there will shortly be a by election. Oh and isn't nuclear power marvellous.
Most comical moment of the day was however delivered not by Chauncey with his crack team of gag writers. It came from Chris Bryant who told the House that, far from closing tax offices in Wales and relocating them to Cardiff - which is actually also in Wales as the PM pointed out - they should be opening tax offices in every small town and village throughout the principality. Tax offices everywhere. What a very Labour sort of idea. They haven't quite got the hang of this populism thing have they?