Wednesday, 1 March 2017
PMQs Review: 1st March 2017 - The Chauncey PIPped Edition
You might imagine that last week's by-elections in Stoke and Copeland would have created crises in the parties that could and should have won them but didn't. But no. This is not the case. Chauncey felt no need to meet his MPs on Monday this week and has largely gone missing after the weekend when he kept being asked rude questions by impertinent reporters. How dare they question the dear leader? Expect legislation about that if he ever gets elected.
Labour are spinning all kinds of lines about their performance last week. Stoke was of course a massive vindication of Chauncey even though it is a safe Labour seat he should win at a canter. And losing Copeland to the Tories was also a vindication because they out performed what they are doing in national opinion polls. Anyway, they would have won it, according to the increasingly absurd Shami Chakrabarti (oh Shami, where did it all go wrong?) if only the poor people of Copeland had cars. Shami seems to think that people ooop north all still wear flat caps and exist in a kind of Ripping Yarns state from the 1930s in which they all have ferrets and practise ecky thump.
Ukip are in disarray too. But this is not, contrary to expectations and common sense, because of Paul Nuttall's performance as leader and candidate in the Stoke Central by-election. This is the way that proper parties would operate but not Ukip. It is more worried that Douglas Carswell didn't try and get Nigel Farage a knighthood, which anyway Nigel doesn't really want because that would make him too establishment. And anyway, as Phillip Green has just demonstrated, knighthoods are very very expensive. For £363m surely you should get a dukedom?
Lent starts today and the PM, a vicar's daughter after all, has let it be known that she is giving up salt and vinegar crisps. That diminishes her ascetic reputation doesn't it.
The session started with tributes to Father of the House, Gerald Kaufman and paid tribute to him. He was a colourful and great character and the author of the classic quote about the longest suicide note in history, referring to Labour's manifesto of 1983. One cannot help but wonder what he would have had to say about the enduring car crash of Chauncey and co and their triumphant losses of last Thursday.
Mrs May had plenty to say about it of course. First question of the day came from Andrew Bridgen who asked the standard sort of question about whether the PM would explain how marvellous she and the Tories are and what wonders they will present to the country in relation to Brexit thus confounding her predecessor, Sir John Major, who made one of his periodic eccentric interventions this week very much in the same spirit as Tony Blair last week. Is Gordon Brown saying anything next week and do Remainers really think that this parade of losers and the hated helps their cause?
The Government has got itself into a bit of bother this week on the issue of PIPs, Personal Independence Payments, yet another welfare debacle spending money we haven't got, on people who don't really need it but who fight like tigers to hang on to it once they have it.
George Freeman, the head of the Number 10 policy unit, opined at the weekend that PIPs should go to people who are really disabled and not to those popping pills because they are a bit stressed out. This ought to be an entirely uncontroversial statement, since it is obviously true. But of course the press and virtue signallers have piled on saying how shocking it was. Chauncey joined in today as did several of his front benchers from sedentary positions as the PM pointed out.
Chauncey read his long rambling questions about this, alleged that the Government sneaked out a statement about this - which they kind of did because it was done last Thursday, but it was made to parliament - and generally left the chamber once again underwhelmed. This ought, yet again, to have been a great opportunity for Labour but he once again fumbled it.
The Government's position on this is entirely reasonable and logical. The court decision on this was eccentric and bizarre and the country simply cannot afford to spend money like this. The Government is going to tighten and better define the rules. This is being labelled a cut by Labour. It's not a cut. A court made a decision that would vastly increase spending by giving money to people with conditions, though distressing and unpleasant, that do not require additional financial support from Government.
Unusually this was all explained in Mrs May's answers. She set out the Government's position and mocked Labour's usual tendency to spend money without explaining where it came from. Hilariously Chauncey even referred to the record of this and the coalition on borrowing. He is right that we have, since 2010, borrowed more money than all previous Labour administrations. But that is because Gordon Brown was borrowing money right at the top of the business cycle leaving a huge structural deficit. And Labour have been complaining ever since about cuts. Chauncey does it every week alleging that people are going to be terribly affected and rendered desperate, destitute or worse. Labour even alleged in Copeland that babies would die if a Tory were elected. Their position on PIPs is much the same.
This is the problem that Labour face. They are no longer the party of labour, they are the party of the supposed dispossessed and benefit claimants. Their stance on this actually alienates their traditional voter base who work for a living and resent the money being given to such claimants.
The PM was effective on what is a difficult issue for the Tories even though if common sense and logic applied it really shouldn't be. She came to the Commons thoroughly prepared and so batted Chauncey away with comparative ease. As usual he stuck limpet like to his script and once again failed to seriously trouble her. He didn't even sound angry and scornful, which he can be at times and this ought to be an issue to raise him to his indignant best, or worst depending on your point of view. Maybe the sniping and constant reversals are getting to him. But today was an opportunity to score a win. Instead he once again looked as useless and incompetent as ever.
In the end Theresa May had the confidence to mock him. 'Incredible' she said, quoting the hilarious spin from Labour after losing in Copeland. I don't think, judging from her stance and lowered voice, that she mean this in a positive sense, except in what he is doing to her poll ratings. In truth it was a joke that didn't come off. It was rather like Chauncey's Irony Lady attempt of a few weeks ago. But otherwise it was another solid and impressive performance by a PM at the top of her game.