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An alternative PMQs

16 March 2011

2:46 PM

16 March 2011

2:46 PM

With Libya in metaphorical meltdown and with Japan close to the real thing, it was
remarkable how little foreign affairs impinged on PMQs today.

Ed Miliband led on the NHS and facetiously asked if Cameron planned any amendments to his health bill following the LibDem spring conference. Cameron replied by accusing Labour of wasting
£250m on phantom operations. Would he apologise for this scandalous blunder? Miliband, unsurprisingly, declined even to acknowledge the invitation. The session developed on these familiar,
solipsistic lines.

Keen to harry the PM on bureaucracy Miliband stumbled on a Cameron quote decrying ‘pointless topdown re-organisations’ of the NHS. He pulled it up by the roots, shook off the mud and
flourished it in Cameron’s face. Aye, aye, thought Cameron, that’s not a bad plan. He duly exhumed John Healey’s antique tribute to the expertise of Andrew Lawnsley in health
affairs and slung it back at the Labour leader. This was excellent fun – for those with amnesia. Anyone with an intact memory will recall these soundbites having been used before and in
identical circumstances.

When Cameron laid down his weekly jibe about Miliband using pre-scripted questions the Labour leader flashed back with this devastating riposte.

‘He’s got to get away from these pre-scripted answers.’ And Labour loved it. They cheered and roared. They seem to draw enormous comfort from their leader’s sprightlier
recent efforts to throw himself into the attack against the prime minister. But for neutrals it’s like watching a bulldozer trying to jump the Grand Canyon.  

The backbenches shone today. Malcolm Rifkind brought up the no-fly zone and suggested that Cameron urge the Egyptians to despatch an armed brigade to keep the peace in eastern Libya. ‘The
problem is there’s no peace to keep,’ said Cameron. Jo Swinson (E Dunbardonshire) pointed out with admirable clarity and passion that it would send a terrible signal to the world if
Gaddafi were to emerge from the crisis still in power. Swinson is a highly impressive young member, despite clear evidence of zero judgement – she’s a LibDem.

Angus Robertson, the SNP’s doughty – and dough-nutty – leader in the House of Commons begged Mr Cameron to stop punishing rural Scotland with fuel levies and to lower petrol
prices in his benighted homeland.  

Cameron replied, with a mystifyingly hieratic turn of phrase, that he ‘didn’t wish to speculate on the contents of the budget.’

Stuart Andrew (Con, Pudsey) used the Olympics to throw satirical light on AV. Imagine the absurdity, he said, if a race-winner won the bronze medal. These two new friends – AV and fun –
make peculiar bed-fellows and it was nice to see Bernard Jenkin prolonging the pleasure for a few extra seconds. He teased the house with this anonymous quote. ‘The reason I’ve never
voted AV is because it would have given the Tories an even bigger majority in 1983.’ The sire of that opinion, Jenkin revealed, was none other than Ben Bradshaw, currently ‘director of
the Labour Yes to AV campaign’.

All eyes swivelled to the glossy, silver-haired Mr Bradshaw who was found to be smirking like a fare-dodger caught bang to rights. Perhaps he was blushing too. It was hard to tell beneath the
suntan. But Mr Bradshaw has no cause for embarrassment. His position is perfectly consistent with the illogical framework of proportional representation. He has, effectively, expressed the view
that AV is his second preference which is how you secure its victory. Whatever you don’t want, you vote for. If the UN Security Council decided to use AV they could keep Gaddafi in power

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