Wednesday, 25 January 2017

PMQs Review 25th January 2017 - The Alternative Facts Edition

At times during 2016 we were exhausted by the sheer quantity of news to digest and write about. 2017 is shaping up the same way. We have the Donald in America issuing executive orders reversing the sacred sacraments of St Obama of smug and dispensing advice on how to count crowds. Theresa is off to see him this week. How does one talk to someone like the Donald? Like a naughty schoolboy or like an undiscovered genius? The worry is that Theresa is not much of a people person. But maybe Donald will do all the talking. He is after all her Ronnie and she his Maggie. Will they get on? Will he grab her by anything and then deny he ever did any such thing and that he has total respect for prime ministers everywhere. And anyway she's not that hot.

We are in the age of  fake news and alternative facts. Those crowds were quite small but they were also huge. This is an alternative fact. Other alternative facts are being compiled but they will include the moon landings, the use of vaccines for childhood diseases and Donald's age and hairline.

Meanwhile this week of course there has been the handing down of the thoughts of the Supremes. They want parliament to give permission before the Government can invoke Article 50. Curiously it has all turned out to be a win for the Government and not for those who nominally won their case. The argument has moved on and now it is widely seen that Brexit cannot be stopped. That was the real intent of the case and in that it has failed. The SNP are also fulminating once again that Scotland is being ignored, which of course is patently untrue. How could we ignore their constant whingeing? All of this, said Nicola yesterday, means that another referendum is highly likely. This is now the 17th reason that Nicola and co have said that a referendum is highly likely. Other reasons include insufficient powers and the weather. England gets better and warmer weather than Scotland and they are furious about this. An independent Scotland will force its way uninvited into the EU, will carry on using the pound, will be subsidised by the English and will have better weather and lifestyles by decree. They will have a referendum about it all one day soon don't you worry. They just need to whinge a bit more first.

One of our Trident submarines recently had a test run to ensure it was working correctly. It was. This is an alternative fact. The original fact was that it was fired and went the wrong way towards Florida, possibly in an attempt to stop The Donald before he became president. The Donald has been highly interested by this news. He now controls the world's most powerful military. Could he not occasionally have similar misfirings? After all the missile we sent the wrong way was an American one really. He could order one to be tested and have it hit one of those spontaneous marches through the capitol, the one that had been bigger than his until they alternative fact checked it.

And the Food Agency in the UK has created an alternative fact about toast and roast potatoes. They are lethal. Given that this is a country whose staple diet is roast potatoes, chips and toast you might imagine that the research on this was flawed since it was based on mice and not actual people. Why do you need mice? Just pop down the road and watch real humans eat their breakfast and evening meal.

Chauncey likes the idea of alternative facts. He is ahead in the polls and will win the by elections caused by his MPs going off and abandoning his populist revolution. Chauncey is a populist.  He is also very funny. Look at his brilliant joke last week about the irony lady, although he is the one who likes manhole covers. But people just have not yet realised how popular and funny Chauncey is. Much like Donald and his vast crowds.

At the start of the session today the Speaker welcomed the Burmese Speaker who was there to observe the way we do things. Was it my imagination or was Bercow shouting more loudly and generally showing off even more than usual today? There is no clear reason why he has to call the prime minister to get her to her feet to answer a question she has just been asked but he did so in a voice that would have been better suited to a Shakespeare sonnet delivered to the Royal Albert Hall. From space. There is also no reason why he needs to comment about the questions in relation, for instance, to the subsidies our landed gentry receive. He did that too. He was playing to the gallery. Or someone in the gallery.

Anyway Chauncey today, for the second week in succession, wanted to talk about the big issue of the day: toast and roast potatoes. No, not really. Chauncey was in alternative facts mode today. For a start he wrongly offered his condolences to the family of a police officer in Northern Ireland, even though the officer survived being shot and is currently in hospital. One might almost imagine that Chauncey's  sympathies lie with those who did the shooting rather than the victim since he was unaware of this basic, none alternative fact. Life and death are difficult to subject to alternative facts.

But it was Brexit he wanted to talk about. The PM wrong footed him from the beginning by telling the House, in response to a question asked by Chris Philp, that the Government will publish a white paper about Brexit, a late decision that seems to have happened overnight but one that is another tactical triumph. Remainers are struggling to know how to object to any of this now.

Chauncey was going to start fulminating about this and confecting anger. Instead he had to do a reverse ferret and get angry about something else instead. As a consequence he had to extemporise. It did not go well. He started by asking when the white paper would be published when he had been ready to ask why there wasn't going to be one. The House rightly laughed at that. The PM, who was on sparkling form, said that he had asked about debates, then votes and now a white paper. All had been granted. Chauncey asks always about process, she said, because his policy on Brexit is all over the place.

Chauncey repeated a question he asked last week about paying for access to the single market. Mrs May responds as she always responds to this by saying we will get the best possible deal. But since we are leaving the single market why would we need to pay for access to it? Access to it is simply trading in the normal way. We would no more pay for this than Canada or the United States do.

Labour's other attack lines on this are that Britain will, as a consequence of leaving the EU, have worse worker rights and become a bargain basement state with low taxes. It sounds great doesn't it. This is an obsession of Chauncey, although for him workers right seem to mostly revolve around unions and their ability to cause misery to commuters. He talks of zero hours contracts and the minimum wage too, but these are peripheral issues and they have occurred whilst we are in the EU which supposedly protects workers rights. So what is he banging on about?

That ultimately was the big question of this session. What are Labour banging on about? The PM pointed out that Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has said that he sees no sign that the Government is planning on reducing workers rights and indeed the existing legislation of the EU will be left intact once we leave. It has nothing to do with the deal that will be done over Brexit but it was all Chauncey could think of to talk about. Mrs May also listed the disagreements within Chauncey's own Shadow Cabinet who keep saying entirely different things about Brexit and even, in the case of Diane Abbott, call Chauncey up at night to tell him to say something else.

Since none of this was really working Chauncey then switched to Donald Trump and complained that the Government is offering America a blank cheque which will see American companies march unhindered to decimate our beloved NHS and make us wear big hats and remove the U from various words beloved of we proper English speakers. He offered no evidence for this assertion of course. It was probably an alternative fact.

What was a real fact was that the PM gave another excellent performance. It has taken her a while to get to grips with PMQs since July but today she was in control and completely bested Chauncey. He was reduced to shouting a lot, but if you listened to what he was saying it made no sense. He offered to the country his various prejudices about workers rights, the United States and tax cuts. But ultimately he had been exposed as unprepared and unable to change when the facts change. Who knows what deal Britain will do with the EU or with America. But simply saying it will inevitably be bad just because Theresa May is a Tory and Donald Trump is American and has said nasty things about women is not really a policy is it.

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