Thursday, 7 December 2006

Match Report: Prime Minister’s Questions, December 6th 2006

I never thought I’d say this, but after last week’s public gargling match, it was a relief to listen to Tony Blair again! This time, it was a close battle, with all three leaders managing to score major points off each other, and even a couple of upsets coming from the backbenchers. As usual (or rather, for the second week running since this blog started!), Hug A Hoodie brings you the full match writeup.

The battles:

Blair 1 : 2 Cameron

During this first bout, Cameron started off in an open and neutral tone. It was a good opening gambit, and lulled the PM into agreeing with the comments by new US Defence Secretary Robert Gates. Blair seemed to warm up, however, and when Cameron asked about changes in the Iraq strategy, the PM was able to hit straight back with a detailed answer, levelling the score at 1-all. Cameron tapped into public sentiment by wondering whether British policy is decided at home or in Washington, for another point. Nobody believed the PM’s denial, and the round ended at 2:1 to Cameron.

Blair 1 : 1 Campbell

Is Sir Ming not capable of preparing questions on a couple of different topics, to cover all eventualities? He must have been worried when he heard David Cameron ask almost the same question as his own, but he still pressed on! The first question, on a phased withdrawal, suffered from a weak delivery, and the PM was able to score a point with his mocking put-down. Ming seemed to recover in time for his second question, and his dig at Blair’s legacy gave him the equaliser.

Ming needs to realise that Iraq is not the issue that will take the Lib Dems to the next level. If it were, the party would have won more than a dozen extra seats in 2005. It may be frustrating to see the Tories make capital out of Iraq, when it was their votes that sent the troops to war, but the Lib Dems risk losing the voters if they appear obsessed with Iraq. Ming and his team need to be seen as a credible alternative with well fleshed-out policies. It wouldn’t hurt to ask about the economy, law and order, or some other area where the Lib Dems are seen to be weak.

Blair 0 : 0 Cameron

After the mature performance of the first round, Cameron came back in a nastier mood for the second go, attacking the Government’s record on education, and calling literacy levels a “national disaster”. Tony Blair responded by telling us how much better things were since Labour came to power, and that it would have been much worse under the Tories. It wasn’t a massively edifying spectacle, and descended into the usual PMQs slapfest, with both leaders flatly contradicting each other in front of baying backbenchers, with no discussion of policy from either side.

This sort of exchange doesn’t do much to help the political process. The Government and Official Opposition are arguing over the bare facts, which confuses and alienates voters. It would be much more positive to seem them discussing different ways of improving things, which would allow citizens to listen to the arguments on both sides, come to their own informed view, and feel engaged in the debate.

The awards:

Back in '97
The Prime Minister used the phrase “since 1997” seven times in this week’s PMQs.

Backbencher of the Day
The Backbencher of the Day is Conservative Peter Luff, who asked the PM if he was going to pick up his Congressional Gold Medal before the new Congress changes its mind. It’s a killer question, and it works on so many levels.

The Hansard Award
for Mangled Grammar
Not awarded. The MPs all managed to stay fairly coherent, and at any rate, it’s all pretty tame compared to Two Verbs last week.

The George Orwell Award for Crimes Against the English Language
This goes to David Cameron for the following:

The Treasury – that’s the home of the clunking fist … he’s not much of a clunking fist, he can’t even get rid of a lame duck!

The Golden Clanger
As a Lib Dem blogger, it pains me to do this, but Sir Ming Cambell takes this dubious honour, for sitting down before he’d actually finished his question. Just when things were starting to get better …


monsterravingloony said...

So has the new more mature approach to PMQ, promised by Cameron when he became Tory leader, degenerated to the puerile petty pointscoring of old?

Jonny Wright said...

I'm not sure. This week, he used his first round of questions in a less confrontational way, but it was back to "petty pointscoring" with the second lot. The week before last, he took his questions all in one go, and took a more grown-up approach with all of them. It seems like a mixed strategy, designed to give him a suitable quotation for every eventuality. Of course, if you're Lib Dem leader, you don't have quite so many questions to play with, so the strategic possibilities are more limited!