Wednesday, 22 February 2017

PMQs Review: 23rd February 2017 - The Wheezing Edition

Brexit is back on the agenda this week - when was it off it you might reasonably ask, although if you did I might reasonably point you in the direction of goings on across the pond which have occasioned much comment and quite a lot of agenda adjusting. Indeed the antics of the liar in chief have caused such fits of the vapours on this side of the Atlantic that the French and the Germans have quite forgotten that they are meant to be playing good cop and bad cop with we want aways and indeed have forgotten who was meant to be playing whom. For the record the French always want to play the bad cops since the Germans played that role up to 1945. There was a treaty about it or something. Charles de Gaulle probably demanded it.

There was an entirely pointless debate about the liar in chief on Monday in Parliament in which various MPs grandstanded about him, not least because they were being carried by some cable networks in the US. Donny Little Hands, as we all know, is a keen fan of cable news when he is not calling it fake news. Its not clear whether he caught the debate. It's all academic anyway. The rabble rouser in chief would not come across well in Parliament, he prefers his speechifying in aircraft hangers. He would, however, like to get in touch with Pugin dude and have him decorate a few of his hotels. And The White House.

Brexit is back on the agenda because it passed the Commons before the recess and now this week it is in the Lords. Indeed Theresa May went along to the upper house to have a look for herself at proceedings there. Some have said, unkindly, that she went to menace them or possibly to practice her hard stare for when Brexit negotiations get underway. This blog can exclusively reveal that she actually went along there to see how the Lords will look if the Commons has to move in there when the Houses of Parliament are being refurbished. She also thought she might as well have a look at what room there is in the place in case she has to fill it with dozens of new peers if it plays awkward over the Brexit bill. She was also looking wistfully at the place she would really like to send John Bercow to given his recent indiscretions. The berk that is Bercow clings on though and we must wait for a general election. Or next year. He is supposedly standing down then, although don't be surprised if he reneges on that plan. Possibly the only way to get him out is by starting the refurbishment early and telling him he will have to go and live in his own house.

You will have noticed that a number of ex MPs and even ex prime ministers have been popping up over the last week as the debate moved to the Lords. Tony Blair, who seemingly has no self knowledge whatsoever, gave a speech in which he offered to lead the campaign to try and stop Brexit. Yes the people have voted, he said, but they did so without being in full possession of the facts. If only governments presented us with all of the facts in the form of dossiers perhaps. Blair declined to offer the country a referendum on Europe on 3 separate occasions despite having promised to do so. He now proposes to try and reverse the one we actually got because he's none too keen on the result and thinks he knows better. Blair has been joined by Peter Mandelson, Lord Oleaginous of Spin, in offering, entirely gratuitously, their views on the issue. The country has not reacted with gratitude to their intervention, not even those who wanted to remain.

Meanwhile Labour are 18 points behind the Tories in the latest opinion poll, a fact that may well be reflected in this week's by-elections in Copeland and Stoke. The Tories are set to win in Copeland by all accounts but Labour may well hang on in Stoke since Ukip imploded there with their candidate who lied about where he lives, thinks that wearing tweeds is a good look and has been forced to admit that he did not have a close friend killed at Hillsborough. Things have got so bad that Nigel Farage has refused to campaign for his successor anymore and this is the same Farage who was an enthusiastic campaigner for the liar in chief. He even, if you recall, posed in a tasteful lift with him.

If Labour do lose one by-election and hang on in the other it will either be down to Nuttall's idiocy or to the Tories having never thought they stood a chance in Stoke. Or possibly, according to Chauncey, on their winning hands down on social media. This is Chauncey's strategy. Talk straight to the people. It's only a matter of time before he starts talking about fake news and the dishonest media. His MPs however just want to poke him.

I've been feeling a bit unwell this week, very unwell last night. I was feverish and breathless and may have an infection. I'm going to see my GP this afternoon. I called this morning and got a same day appointment.

Today Chauncey was even more breathless than I am at the moment. Why? Because he was retreating to Labour's comfort zone once again and shouting about the NHS. It's in crisis according to Labour. At every election they tell us that we have a only a few hours/days choose a time period of your choice to save the NHS. It's time that politicians started talking honestly about the NHS and acknowledge that, while it works miracles, it is in need of fundamental reform and new sources of funding.

But Chauncey was in full on rant mode today talking dishonestly about closing down A&E units and hospitals, measures that clinicians actually back because larger centres of excellence are better equipped to deal with patients. Stays in hospital are shorter now than ever, not because of cuts to the NHS but because medicine and technology allow this.

The prime minister came fully equipped with such facts today. The trouble with Labour's comfort zone is that they retreat to it so often and so predictably that she is forearmed and forewarned. And Chauncey is hopeless at pressing her for answers. He shouts a lot and sounds passionate but there is no forensic questioning. He comes to the session with his pre-prepared questions and is no more incapable of steering from them than a train is from veering off tracks.

Chauncey is given six questions, six bites of the cherry. He often accuses the PM of not answering the question, although today he did so when she had indeed answered, something she gleefully pointed out. But he never presses her. He never goes back for a second go on any question. He never reveals a killer fact or has the presence of mind to marshal his thoughts and notes to prove her wrong. And he is up against Theresa May who is on top form. The confidence now shines out of her. She still stumbles once in a while and lacks the smoothness of a Cameron or a Blair but that seems to be working for her. Just look at the polls.

He talked of waiting times, social care, hospital beds, patients on trolleys, he quoted doctors, he even retreated back to his minor triumph of a couple of weeks ago on social care in Surrey. Mrs May said he was demolished on that occasion and should apologise. She used the standard line about only being able to put more money into the NHS if the economy is strong. That is her and the Government's default response. But she can say it, partly because this is true and it resonates with the public, but more importantly because she is up against an opponent who hasn't the wit to hit back on it. Overall though there was an unenlightening exchange of statistics between the two. Chauncey cherry picked bad statistics and Mrs May fired back with her own cherry picked figures. We were left none the wiser, but with the clear impression that the PM was unruffled by the shouty man opposite her. She finished off her answers to him by saying that Labour used to be the party of boom and bust but now it is the party of borrow and bankrupt. Not the greatest of lines, but it was more than enough to see of Chauncey.

Chauncey was in need of a win today more than ever. His leadership is under pressure. PMQs has little impact with the public but it does affect party morale. The Tories are riding high and have the luxury of watching those two by-elections tomorrow not really minding how they turn out. A win in one would be nice. But Chauncey scraping over the line in both would make his position safe and thus he would continue no doubt telling himself that he is making progress. He says that he is better than the Government on social media. Maybe he should start tweeting his questions to the PM instead, at least then we wouldn't have to hear him wheezing and shouting incoherently.

The Government does seem to be making conciliatory moves on a number of major issues especially with the Budget approaching next month. Could we see more money for social care? Could we see a new approach on business rates?

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