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PMQs Sketch: The Tories have redefined the term ‘manifesto’

20 April 2016

4:40 PM

20 April 2016

4:40 PM

Does Cameron care any more? Insouciance is a more attractive quality than earnestness in a leader but Cameron is taking his demob-happiness to extremes. He dismisses every crisis with a bored eye-roll and a wave of the hand. Doctors strike? No big deal. Backbench revolt over education? Been there before. Dodgy dossier on Brexit? All forgotten by the summer. Tax evasion scandal? A scrap of signed paperwork will sort it.

Corbyn attacked Tory plans to academise schools against their will. This is the same freedom-at-gunpoint policy that worked so well in Iraq and transformed a malign dictatorship into a thrusting modern democracy. Cameron believes that cattle-prodding schools into accepting autonomy will magically improve them. ‘Outstanding schools have a huge amount to gain’, he said, which rather undermines the ‘outstanding’ kitemark.

Corbyn told us about a long afternoon he spent shuffling around a London school and taking notes. A group of Year Sixes had inveighed against government policy. He quoted them verbatim. ‘They don’t want “a top-down reorganisation of the education system”’. Amazing that 11-year-olds are so well briefed in our entirely apolitical schools.

He had evidence that councillors in Cameron’s constituency are furious about his schools policy. ‘I’m fed up with diktats from above,’ said one.

Cameron: ‘Always good to get a lesson in diktats from a man whose press secretary is an avowed Stalinist.’

This is a shocking slur on poor old Seumas Milne. Since he can’t respond himself, for fear of ‘becoming the story’, he deserves a word of support. Milne published a paper indicating that the 20 million deaths commonly ascribed to Uncle Joe vastly exaggerate the real tally which stands at a whisker above three million. This doesn’t make Milne a ‘Stalinist’. He’s simply pointing out that Stalin was a killer who wasn’t as good at it as everyone believes.

Tory backbenchers raised Brexit. Bernard Jenkin warned that the EU’s new restrictions on data-sharing will jeopardise the free flow of intelligence between Britain and the US. Might the President profit from such news? Cameron smirked and blathered about Obama taking every viewpoint into consideration. The PM seems to regard the referendum as a charming frivolity like a Nativity play performed by Japanese robots or an exhibition of spud paintings created by circus chimps. It brings a smile of gooey condescension to his lips, but he obviously can’t wait for the freak-show to end so he can return to the grown-up business of governing in the interests of the governors. He actually said — as if this were a worthwhile point — that he ‘couldn’t think of a national leader’ who has urged us to leave the EU. Well of course not. No statesman, (Obama excepted), would have the effrontery to insult 27 European states while simultaneously gaining a reputation for meddling in the home affairs of a sovereign power.

Christopher Chope said Treasury predictions that 3 million incomers will arrive by 2030 have dashed Cameron’s hopes of cutting immigration to ‘tens of thousands’ per year. Cameron ignored his point and chose to praise the Treasury’s ‘very pure and clear argument’.

Strange times. The prime minister intends to academise schools — which wasn’t an electoral pledge — and to abandon a vow on migration — which was. The Tories appear to have redefined ‘manifesto’ as a list of proposals the government solemnly swears to junk.

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