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PMQs: Lutz in the Birmingham Press got it right. Corbyn impressed

A recent article by Richard Lutz in the Birmingham Press opened: “The Prime Minister will have to have change his upper class bully boy tactics once he faces new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

As Lutz recounted: “PMQs is hardly polite. In fact, it is so red in tooth and claw that the Speaker had to recently warn baying Parliamentarians to calm down as some of the more demure MPs said it just wasn’t worth showing up any more . . . but with the chance to perform for TV, it has become more and more nasty, personal, vindictive and, ultimately, void of any real content”. He referred to Cameron: “braying personalised attacks at those sitting across the House from him”.

Watching PMQs today – recorded here.

jc magisterial pmq firstElderly readers of the Times who have been voicing concerns about his appearance will be reassured by the fact that he was wearing a tie – a concern which also seems to loom large in the mainstream press.

Corbyn, with considerable gravitas, opened – to Labour applause and opposition silence – by referring to the public’s perception that conduct in ‘this place’ is too theatrical and out of touch. He remembered welcoming Cameron’s 2005 promise to end the “Punch and Judy” politics of PMQs, sadly unfulfilled.

Over 40,000 people sent in questions for Mr Corbyn’s consideration. Of the 2500 on housing he selected Marie’s focus on the chronic lack of affordable housing and thanked the PM for his polite, “more adult” reply. We learnt that the government’s July order to cut rents in social housing by1% for the next four years has already led to 150 job cuts in a Stevenage housing association and will mean less money will be available to spend on maintenance and housing. Elsewhere we read that it will also reduce housebuilding by housing associations.

Paul’s question, conveyed by the new Labour leader, doubted the wisdom of taking £1000 from each of 3 million working families in April through family tax credit cuts, as these credits were essential to avoid reliance on food banks.  

A relatively minor level of shouting from Labour benches (by PMQ standards a murmur) was reproved by the prime minister as not being in keeping with the new style advocated by Corbyn.

Cameron answered that employment is at an ‘all time high’ and wages are rising, and referred to those who choose to live on welfare payments rather than work. Corbyn answered gravely that many people don’t have the choice. He then cited the findings of the Institute for Fiscal Studies that 8000 families would suffer a 26% loss.

Gail provided the next question, which opened with the dramatic statement that all accept that the mental health service is ‘on its knees’ and David Cameron appeared to agree. He said the parties should ’work together on this’ adding an oblique reference to the media fables about the Corbyn economic agenda: “there can be no strong NHS without a strong economy”.

The question from Angela, a mental health professional, referred to the lack of available beds which meant that patients were left without accommodation or moved far away from family and friends. Mr Cameron agreed: “We need to do more as a country; beds are important”, but then alleged that mental health issues are often not treated when patients go to their GP.

After fifteen minutes, Jeremy Corbyn’s questions ended and there was a change of tack, which could be described as indirect sniping – when questioners no longer had to face a Corbyn reply.

SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson says his party “looks forward to working with Jeremy Corbyn and against government austerity” adding “particularly on Trident” – but had to ask ‘What happened to the new PMQs?’ after Cameron asked him in a jeering manner if ‘the SNP is frit?’

Nigel Dodds (DUP) belligerently referred to shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s remark that we should “honour” IRA members who died in the armed struggle – a remark set in full context in a careful report of the proceedings in the Independent.

Conservative bloomer, surely?

Julian Knight stressed the importance of Britain having an independent nuclear deterrent – which actually does not exist, as many point out, Alex Thomson for one: our “independent” Trident missiles in reality come from Lockheed Martin in the US and are maintained by the US Navy. So we are being asked to spend around  £100bn to maintain and replace an “independent” nuclear strike capability – which does not exist. David Morrison adds: “If Britain doesn’t maintain friendly relations with the US, then it won’t have a functional nuclear weapons system, despite having spent billions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money on it – because the US would simply cease providing Britain with serviceable Trident missiles”.

Other MPs questions followed, making references – probably planted to provoke – to increased defence spending, NATO membership, traditional values and the national anthem.

Lutz was right on target:

david cameron pmqCameron did ‘play it cool’, not going for ‘the teenage nastiness that has sadly stained the current level of PMQ debate in the last years’.

He did stick to answering questions, and for the time being he appeared to be “growing up”.

My neighbour said drily, ”Only another 25,000 questions to go.”

Could a phoenix rise from the LibLabCon ashes?

The FT “few question Mr Corbyn’s seriousness and integrity”; Boris Johnson’s verdict: thoughtful, caring and principled

phoenix2

Extracts from an article by George Parker, the FT’s political editor:

Mr Parker said that, in a Europe where anti-austerity parties are on the march, Jeremy Corbyn offers a more radical approach, capturing some of the leftwing anger of Syriza or Podemos: “I have been in Greece, I have been in Spain. It’s very interesting that social democratic parties that accept the austerity agenda and end up implementing it end up losing a lot of members and a lot of support.” He continued:

“He often turned out to be right in the causes he pursued though it did not always feel that way:

  • He backed the jailed Nelson Mandela;
  • spoke up for the people wrongly convicted of the 1974 IRA pub bombings in the UK; opposed Mr Blair’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003
  • and engaged with “friends” in Hamas and Hizbollah in pursuit of Middle East peace.

At the time he ‘earned criticism’ but, Parker adds an accolade, “few question Mr Corbyn’s seriousness and integrity . . . he offers ideological  certainty” – in other words he knows his mind and speaks the truth – a rare commodity in today’s politics.

Boris Johnson would say that wouldn’t he?

Writing in the Sun Boris Johnson, London mayor, says: Of course, he won’t actually win this leadership election. His ideas would be economically ruinous and would impose huge new taxes on working people”.

He may well be quite wrong: Corbyn may win this leadership election; his implemented policies could lead to increased employment and higher taxes on those who can afford them may well be used constructively.

Johnson says that the reason Jeremy Corbyn strikes such a chord with the electorate can be summed up in one word: Authenticity: “Whatever you say about the veteran MP for Islington, he has thought about his positions. He cares. And he puts his principles into practice” and asks: “Can you really say he has been as eccentric as all that?

  • He spent decades campaigning for higher minimum wages for workers.
  • Yes, he was one of the early campaigners against apartheid. Quite right, too — these days Mandela is regarded as a kind of modern saint.
  • Yes, he was in favour of bringing the IRA to the negotiating table, a view treated as semi-treacherous at the time.
  • These days he looks prescient — Martin McGuinness meets the Queen and no one bats an eyelid. Yes, he abominated the Iraq war and rebelled countless times against the government of Tony Blair.
  • But these days you look at what is happening in Iraq and Syria — the almost daily bombings and massacres — and you have to respect his judgment.

“The reason he is doing so well is that by comparison with the other Labour leadership candidates — a bunch of relatively anaemic, gelatinous and vacillating opportunists — Jeremy Corbyn looks passionate and principled. And that has lessons for everyone in politics”.

Not convinced? Watch him on Newsnight:http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02y2ffn

Britain’s last best hope

The vote on the war in the Middle East: three sources

George Parker, political editor of the Financial Times: MPs sceptical and anxious over Isis strikes

ft.com logo“The vote was decisive and deceptive. An overwhelming majority of 481 gave the impression that the House of Commons was confident in its decision to send British forces to war in the Middle East for the fourth time in 15 years. In fact the mood among MPs was one of scepticism and anxiety – even fear . . .

“During the course of a sombre emergency debate, speaker after speaker stood up to back UK military action against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, but expressed fears over whether it would work, and where it might lead, in almost the same breath.

commons debate middle east 9.14“The Conservative MP Ken Clarke gave voice to a political class scarred by the experience of previous interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, all of which the former chancellor said had ended in disaster: “What happened in all those cases was that the military deployment produced a situation at least as bad as it had been before and actually largely worse”. Like many other MPs, he concluded that bombing Isis was the least-worst option.

“Yet his short intervention summed up the doubts reverberating around the chamber over what MPs were being asked to approve: the “almost symbolic participation” by the RAF in attacks on Isis targets in Iraq, but not Syria . . . the drift towards a wider engagement beyond Iraq stirred foreboding among MPs who remember the way UK forces in Iraq and Afghanistan were sucked into an open-ended conflict . . .

“In the upper house, just as in the Commons, the big majorities for British intervention in Iraq did little to disguise the pessimism over its chances of success.

“As Frank Dobson, the former Labour health secretary, put it: “If we look at the track record of the interventions of the French, the British and the Americans in the Middle East since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, then the odds look as though we won’t succeed. Everything else has gone wrong . . . ”

The Herald reported SNP MPs’ refusal to support air attacks on Isis

herald logoAngus Robertson, the Nationalists’ foreign affairs spokesman, expressed revulsion at the militia group’s reign of terror, which includes beheadings, crucifixions and rapes, and agreed international co-operation was required. However, during an impassioned eight-hour debate, the Moray MP yesterday told the Commons that because there was no coherent plan to “win the peace” in the Coalition’s motion then SNP MPs would vote against it. He said there was “deep scepticism for the potential of mission creep and a green light for a third Iraq war”, given what had happened previously in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, adding, “The motion asks for a green light for military action which could last for years [but] there is no commitment in the motion for post-conflict resolution.”

guardian logoIn the Guardian, Simon Jenkins: “This is the moment in any war when peace goes dumb. The cause is just. The enemy is in our sights, and the provocation is extreme. Blood races through tabloid veins. It is white feathers for dissenters”.

“The new Iraq war has no strategy, not even tactics. It is a ` a token, a pretence of a strut on the world stage . . .

“The return to war will reinforce the politics of fear – which is the grimmest legacy of the Blair era in Britain. It has Cameron popping in and out of his Cobra bunker like a rabbit in a hole. Every government office, every train, every airport welcomes visitors to Britain with terror warnings and alerts. Cameron does this because he knows he can only get Britons to go to war by portraying Isis as a “threat to Britain’s national security”. Some Isis adherents may have criminal intent, but that is a matter for the police. Britain survived a far greater menace from the IRA without crumbling. Its existence is not threatened by jihadism. The claim is ludicrous. Cameron must have no faith in his own country.

“The contrast between Asia’s eastern and western extremities is now stark, the one booming, the other descending into catastrophic instability and medieval horror. It is impossible not to relate this to two centuries of western imperialism and meddling. It strains belief that further intervention – through the crudest of all forms of aggression – can bring peace and reconciliation”.