Wednesday, 22 March 2017

PMQs Review 22nd March 2017: The Sorrow For Serial Killers Edition

It is not April 1st. George Osborne really is the new editor of the London Evening Standard, an MP, a well remunerated consultant for BlackRock, the chairman of the Northern Powerhouse (his diary secretary combines this with the occasional visit to his constituency) a speechmaker and an academic. If, like me, you did a comic double take when this news emerged on your phone last week then you will have then checked the date. Of course it could just be an Osborne joke brought to you early because his diary is too full on 1st April. We all know how adept he is at jokes. The pasty tax? That voice he used to use when delivering his Budget? It's said that he once introduced a tax change just because he had thought of a really good joke about it at Labour's expense. Are you confident his editorship isn't a joke?

Either way its completely buggered up my 1st April joke about David Cameron's new career as a swimwear model.

We are a nation that is fond of a laugh of course, although how anyone explains Mrs Brown's Boys is an enduring mystery. But the joke that the Labour Party played on us all a year and a half ago is wearing very thin now isn't it. Chauncey last week gave a performance that was so catastrophically bad that it is said that he has been offered a part in the aforementioned execrable sitcom. Meanwhile his party is now engaged in open warfare as they plan for the succession and a way of inserting a lefty onto the ballot so as to follow in his exalted footsteps. You will recall that the only way that Chauncey managed to get nominated in the first place was by some Labour MPs lending him their votes so as to ensure a full and open debate. Since even Labour MPs are unlikely to make the same mistake twice (although I would point you in the direction of Owen Smith) the lefties are trying to change the rules to ensure that whoever stands for them next time only needs 5% of the available vote, or Diane Abbott, whichever is larger. Chauncey is actually playing his part in this process though if you think about it; if he remains leader up until the next general election then the resultant decimation of his parliamentary party will probably mean that he is the only MP left and so he will immediately nominate himself again before rebelling against his own policy on Trident.

When will the next general election be? Downing Street insist that it will not be on May 4th. In order for this to be the case they would need to fire the starting gun by next week. They insist this is not going to happen, notwithstanding their 20 point lead in the polls. Don't be surprised however if they perform a U turn on this 20 minutes before PMQs once Chauncey has finalised and printed out his questions and created an organic tableau on his desk made of dates and nuts depicting his triumphant progress.

This time next week we will have begun the process of our leaving the EU. The PM, always assuming she hasn't called an election in the meantime, will have sent off her letter to Donald Tusk and the much vaunted Article 50 will duly have been invoked.

This of course has made the SNP very very angry. They are beside themselves with anger about this and feel the need to have a referendum about it. The will of the people must be heard, that must be different people to the people who thought that this matter had been settled only a couple of years ago and for a generation. I know inflation is back but who knew that years are worth less than they were.

Given the uselessness of Chauncey there seems to be much more fun to be had watching First Minister's Questions up there than can be had at Westminster. Ruth Davidson shows how opposition should be done. Yesterday, in a comedy tour de force, she told how we are all wise to the SNP game in which they make an impossible to agree to demand, wait for the Westminster politicians (preferably Tories) to say no and then rush to the nearest microphone wearing their angry face. Nicola Sturgeon affected to be amused by this but she was just masking her angry face. Bugger! They may be on to us!

I love Ruth Davidson. I would propose marriage and offer to have her babies but she is spoken for.

After his single worst ever PMQs performance last week Chauncey got to his feet this week with the several pages of his script clasped to him as if they were the Communist Manifesto. One thing he didn't need a script for though was his tribute to Martin McGuinness, the murderous hypocrite who died this week after a short illness but having lived to an age denied to most of his dozens or even hundreds of victims. It might well be the case that he was the worst serial killer this country has ever produced and yet here they all were paying tribute to him. The PM did so of course as did Angus Robertson. Chauncey was actively passionate about him though and called him Martin. The man who once invited the IRA to parliament to meet with him despite his being at the time an inconsequential backbencher a million miles from power was as eloquent as he is capable of being about his old friend.

This week he wanted to talk about education and even returned to quoting members of the public as he did when he first started asking questions at PMQs, perhaps in the hope that this would render him more articulate. He talked of cuts in education funding, a dishonest way of terming things because the Government is merely talking of changing the funding formula to address unfairness, a problem that has been ignored for years and sees a wide disparity between different schools in different parts of the country. It hasn't happened yet and will likely be tinkered with, but when you change a formula that inevitably means that some schools will gain and others will lose. Those schools and dishonest politicians will inevitably bleat about it. George Osborne has talked of it, perhaps in his new capacity as a newspaper editor, even though he was behind the new formula in his former role with the grander title. And Eileen had written about it and indeed written to Chauncey too who read her out to an enthralled Commons. Eileen said she has to buy her own pencils and pens for her pupils. Now far be it for me to doubt Eileen, but as I recall we used to have to buy our own pens and pencils, protractors, compasses, calculators and had to cover our exercise books in wallpaper too when I was a lad. They don't know they're born these days do they.

Will education funding be another Government U turn? Well probably not, not least because the policy hasn't been confirmed and firmed up yet. But this is a Government that is fighting on many fronts and screeching U turns are a possibility at least unless and until a general election, which of course they still say won't happen until 2020 as scheduled.

Mrs May for the first three questions was in speak-your-weight automaton mode on these questions, delivering the Government line and not especially convincingly. Chauncey is at his best, relatively speaking, when on domestic subjects like this. He rarely asks questions about international matters at all. For the first three questions, while he certainly didn't have the PM on the ropes he sounded effective for a given value of effectiveness. But when he switched away from the funding formula and on to a broader philosophical point about the types of schools he aroused Mrs May's passions. She spoke of the need for choice and diversity in schools and pointed out how many Labour front benchers exercise choice for themselves whilst advocating it be denied for the rest of us.

Chauncey as ever asked why the Government is cutting funding for schools (it isn't, well not really) when it can afford to cut taxes. Again, this is a travesty of a point because tax cuts for companies is intended to drive growth and bring more jobs here, something that Chauncey probably simply doesn't understand or is too purblind to see.

At the end Mrs May reached into her folder and with a flourish ripped out a page. What was this? What had she got? Had they found footage of Chauncey praising a banker? Had he spoken of his great grammar school education? Had he kissed a Tory? Sadly not. She referred to a video he made earlier this week in which he asked his divided and infighting party to unite for the good of the movement. That was the difference between Labour and her party said the PM: they fight for the good of their party, Tories fight for the good of the country.

And Angus Robertson this week, what do you think he wanted to talk about? Well at least he didn't put on his angry face. Robertson doesn't do angry faces. He does passive aggression instead. Why oh why won't the PM consult the nations of the UK on Brexit he asked sadly.

He was making the SNP's usual bogus argument that if the Commons and Lords got a say on Brexit why shouldn't the Scottish Parliament. Mrs May hit back in her second answer to him: she was respecting the votes in two referendums, the Scottish independence one that the SNP lost by 10 clear points and the referendum last year on the EU. Robertson, she said, was respecting neither.

Chauncey was better this week but the PM was imperious and got stronger as the session went on. Labour united because they were able to go into full on sanctimony mode on selective education. The SNP were just the SNP, shaking their heads sadly at having once again to demand a referendum. The SNP is never happier than when demanding things, especially when they know the Government will say no.

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