Wednesday 25 March 2015

Dave and Ed's Last Prime Minister's Questions

It's been a long, tedious road; but here we are. In regular slots since the 13th October, 2010 Dave and Ed have faced off in gladiatorial combat over the dispatch box. How did it go? It was pretty poor, from Labour's perspective. Especially when, for those who score such things, Ed Miliband had come out on top.

As you might expect, Ed started with the question mark over the Tories' VAT plans. Referencing Dave's retirement plan and his desire to give "straight answers to Dave questions", he was asked whether he would rule out a VAT rise? As Osborne had previously said he had "no plans", it was hardly shocking that - for once - he gave an affirmative answer to the VAT rise.

Unfortunately, Ed had expected the usual obfuscation and nonsense and was caught on the hop. Clearly surprised, his follow up - does the PM agree that cuts are due to be greater under the next Parliament than this? - he hit back with a question of his own: does Labour rule out a National Insurance rise? Ed looked very uncomfortable and never regained the initiative. It doesn't matter that answers given are the Prime Minister's prerogative, it made the Labour leader look weak and indecisive. And that was it, each subsequent question, on net migration, on NHS reorganisation, on cuts to the top rate of income tax, all these were effortlessly side-stepped and countered with accusations of "Labour's jobs tax". For someone who's been doing this for four-and-a-half years and knowing what a slippery customer Dave is, Ed should have seen this coming a mile off and gone with something else instead. Remember, as Kevin Maguire notes, PMQs is solely a point scoring exercise - Labour would have been better off leaving the Tory VAT uncertainty to fester until they ruled it out themselves.

The rest of the session was the usual Parliamentary theatre. Though it's worth noting that while he was happy to denounce the SNP and liken Ed to "Alex Salmond's poodle", he could barely hide his glee in a reply to a Scottish Labour MP that his seat is likely to be taken by the nationalists. A point to ponder on, that.

Most Wednesdays, I am one of those very sad sacks who regularly tune in. I can't help myself. But like nearly everyone else, as a spectacle it is awful and sums up everything that is wrong with how we do politics in Britain. The principle of holding the Prime Minister to account is fine. The practice on the other hand is a farce. There is no accountability, no straight answers, just bellowing, strutting, and public school bullying. At least this is something Labour understands, and has pledged to look at the format as well as introduce regular people's question times where the PM is grilled directly by members of the public. This is much better. Otherwise PMQs will carry on much as it has done, an exemplar of all that is rotten and out-of-touch in what passes for this country's democracy.

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