Theresa May is in China so the Westminster bunfight has been replaced by dull politics. Journalists hate dull politics. But normal people welcome a few days respite from the cocktail of gossip, malice and envy known as ‘democracy’.
David Lidington took the PM’s place. Decent chap. Reliable second-eleven all-rounder. Against him was Labour’s Emily Thornberry who tried to trip him up three times. And three times he refused to be tripped. It was fun to watch. Dainty, unpredictable. Quite a change.
She recalled their last despatch-box tussle in 2016 when the Tories had an opinion-poll lead of 17 points. Mr Lidington had likened Labour’s infighting to a pirate film written by the Carry On team. ‘Ooh,’ crowed Labour’s front bench. ‘How the tables have turned.’
Ms Thornberry mentioned the centenary of women’s suffrage and the Representation of the People Act. Since then, she’s the only ‘Emily’ elected to parliament. In the same period 155 ‘Davids’ have become MPs.
Mr Lidington lasered her statistic with one of his own. He congratulated her on retaining her front bench position when so many of her colleagues – ‘seventy-seven!’ – have quit or been sacked under Jeremy Corbyn. Not a bad comeback. Her big theme was cutting the voting age to 16. She said that in 1969, Labour had lowered it from 21 to 18. ‘Where we lead others will follow.’
Mr Lidington, with no prior notice of this question, skilfully pointed out that Labour in office had actually curtailed teenage freedoms rather than extending them. Labour raised the age at which kids can buy a knife, or a cigarette, or hire a sun-lounger. ‘Public safety,’ retorted Ms Thornberry.
Then a whirlwind of egos stormed through the chamber. ‘They’re not a coalition of chaos,’ she said, ‘they’re a coalition of cavemen.’ Seismic indignation as the Tories clamoured for a retraction. ‘A matter of taste not order,’ said the Speaker, making a ruling of rare terseness.
Mr Lidington said that Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US have a voting age of 18. Was Ms Thornberry ‘denouncing’ these fine nations? ‘She should grow up,’ he finished pleasantly. And there ended the battle of the sexes. After which sixteen further speakers were called. Twelve male, four female. Obviously work still needs to be done.
David Lammy spoke about a teenage boy who had survived a stabbing in Tottenham last Sunday. A hush descended as the house awaited further details of his medical condition. None came. Mr Lammy was using his constituent as a launch-pad for a rambling question about all kinds of things. Gangsters, dagger-ownership, ‘dirty money,’ as he vaguely called it, border controls, cops, under-funded government agencies, and drugs, specifically cocaine. He told us that we Brits hoover up £12bn worth of marching powder each year. By weight this is 100 tons, he went on, informatively. Then he mentioned that our border controls are being weakened, (without mentioning that Brexit, which he opposes, will strengthen them). He touched on police spending and complained about the Violence Reduction Strategy and its budget of £500,000. A huge sum, surely, to spend on marketing experts, hoodie-hugging criminologists and other tax-scavengers. But Mr Lammy wants more cash lavished on these costly natter-jacks. ‘Half a million pounds’, he objected. ‘It’s not enough to buy a house!’ Well, it is, if you want a small two-bedroom place in a neglected corner of his crime-torn, gang-ridden constituency.
Knife crime is driven by organised crime and gangs. 100 tonnes of cocaine are trafficked into the UK yet the Govnt has cut our border forces. Why is the Govnt only proposing a £500,000 community fund? You can’t even buy a house for that in London. #PMQs pic.twitter.com/tE3iRtEvtv
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) January 31, 2018
Mr Lammy had ignored a basic lesson of PMQs: if you attack on many fronts you attack on none. And his contribution today was so shambolic and inelegant that he’s being touted as a possible leader-in-waiting. Watch out, Jezza.