Wednesday, June 17, 2009

House Points: Last week's PMQs

This is my House Points column from last Friday's Liberal Democrat News.

I was at home last Wednesday and thought that writing about prime minister's questions was a pretty cool idea. As it turned out a) it was an exceptionally dull PMQs and b) someone phoned me just after noon.

Questions, questions

I settled down in front of the television with beer and crisps to watch prime minister’s questions. It would, I reasoned, provide more entertainment than England vs Andorra.

But I was wrong. There were too many planted questions from Labour backbenchers – does Sir Gerald Kaufman have nothing better to do with his time? – and the party leaders were determined to talk past one another.

David Cameron didn’t want to mention spending cuts, much as Basil Fawlty did not want to mention the war. Instead he wanted to pillory Gordon Brown for talking about constitutional and electoral reform.

Granted, Brown’s late conversion to the subject is clearly born of party interest, but it is extraordinary that Cameron has learned nothing from the past few weeks. How can he have emerged from the storm of duck houses, flipping and non-existent mortgages with the belief that nothing about our system of government must change?

Instead it was left to more minor figures to shed light on our current malaise.

Mark Harper complained about cuts in regional funding for business. Gordon Brown tries to imply that politics is now a choice between Labour “investment” (as he always calls public spending) and Tory cuts. In fact, there will be spending cuts whoever is in power.

Eric Illsley complained that a college in his Barnsley constituency is insolvent because the Learning and Skills Council has ended its funding for the Building Colleges for the Future programme. Again this reveals the increasing pressure on public spending, but it also shows the perils of centralisation.

Whitehall has taken over the further education sector, which used to be a rich patchwork of local authority and voluntary provision. The result has been increasingly arbitrary decisions of the sort that have left Barnsley College with a demolished new building and no money to replace it.

Our own Sir Robert Smith pointed to the problems that low interest rates are causing for older people living on their savings. Shouldn’t they still be able to get relief on Council Tax?

In return, Gordon Brown listed all the benefits pensioners get. In other words, the government takes their money away in taxes and then gives it back in benefits. Very Labour.

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