I have just watched a session of "Question Time" in the UK House of Commons on our CSPAN channel.
Absolutely Amazing! There is nothing like it in American Politics.
I'll save Blair to last.
Iain Duncan Smith--even though he was sarcastically urbane it was very clear that he would have liked to nail Tony Blair's testicles to the table. When he talked I had the impression of an unsavory character possibly associated with thugs most of his life.
He returned time and again to the subject of an increase in street crime of 34% in London since "last time"--whenever that was. He had the most vociferous following of "Here! Here! of any one in the House. Interesting but I don't think that I would want Smith for a close neighbor.
_______Clapham--seemed to be chiding Blair rather mildly and ineffectively concerning his inactivity in trying to stamp out some disease. He also wanted the sale of arms to some area in the Congo stopped. He mumbled a lot and I got the impression that he was not very sure of himself. Sorry I missed his first name. He was also very difficult for me to understand but this might well be my problenot his.
Charles Kennedy---I know this is Phil's man. and that he is leader of the Liberal Democrats. Surely he was the most self possessed, and the most properly expressed of the leaders. He had in this session one and only one interest. He wanted a rock hard guarantee from Blair that he would not allow Bush to lead UK
into openj conflict with Iraq without bringing the subject back up in the Commons. Kennedy has always impressed me every time I saw him in Commons. He did not get the pledge from Blair that he sought and it made him angry but he controlled himself quite well.
Kennedy is gaining weight---no more Yorkshire pudding for him!
Tony Blair---My opinion of Blair went very far down from what it had been. He answered almost nothing directly but addressed something that the question directed to him was not about---even when the question was from one of his party seated behind him. He was like an eel. He managed to always keep a smile on his face but it was not easy and he was definitely ruffled.; n When Smith pushed on street crime Blair replied that the Conservatives did not support him with enough funding to do everything required.
It was very interesting to me. It must have been very disturbing to Blair because he finished looking very disturbed. Smith almost laughed out loud and Clapham looked puzzled. Kennedy looked as though perhaps he knew something no one else knew and was not going to tell. I am not sure that we Americans have enough civility (not that the Brits showed true civility) to institute such a torture chamber. How often do they do this?
Just thought that you might like an outside opinion from a totally
heh this is freaky, but I actually read this session of PMQs about an hour ago. Blair is becoming mroe and more awful in PMQs it has to be said. I come some up what he will say next week and what he said this week and every week, it goes something like this:
quote:We are spending lots of money and the party opposite oppose, we are clearing up the mess they left after 18 years in power blah blah blah blah
There is only so long that you can get away with this line of answering. I do think that PMQs has become weakened by the number of planted Labour questions though. ie questions that follow this format:
quote:Would the Prime Minister agree that his policies are very good, and the policies of the party opposite are not very good at all, and would he like to visit my constituency to find out how good his policies have been for the local people?
Its weekly oxsan btw, half an hour on Wednesday afternoon. It used to be twice weekly and fifteen minutes but Blair changed it. They also have Treasury Question, Foreign Office Question etc etc.
For anyone intersted here is the session fo PMQs oxsan is referring to: (edited to include the people he mentioned,+ another one who asked about the Congo)
Mr. Laxton: Following the Chancellor's announcement on Monday of the huge investment in public services, which has been warmly welcomed throughout the country—the only lack of warmth coming, I suspect, from the Conservatives—may I tell my right hon. Friend how much I welcome the ongoing funding of £2 million for the new deal for communities, along with the increase in resources for the neighbourhood renewal fund? That will have a strong impact on local communities. May I ask the Prime Minister whether he would like to visit the Derwent new deal project in my constituency, and see the real partnership between local authorities that operates there? Does he agree with me—
Mr. Speaker: Order. That is enough for the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister: I think I got the point, Mr. Speaker. Of course, it is not just about the money that is coming to the constituency of my hon. Friend and of other hon. Members; it is also about what the money that has gone in through the new deal has already delivered. To those who say that the extra investment delivers nothing, I would point to long-term youth unemployment in my hon. Friend's constituency being down by 75 per cent. through the new deal, to the best primary school results that we have ever had, and to in-patient and out-patient waiting lists being down. That is a result of the investment, which is why it is so right to put it in, and such folly to take it out. Talking of which—
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith: "It is what money is actually spent on that counts more than how much money is spent. [Interruption.] I am surprised that Labour Members get so upset about that, because those were the words of the Prime Minister in 1997. So, while we are on the effect of what he is actually spending and whether it is delivering, will he tell us how much recorded street crime has risen over the last 12 months?
The Prime Minister: Recorded street crime has indeed risen over the last 12 months. I do not know the precise figure, but it has risen. However, it is as a result of that that we are taking the necessary measures, including investing in our police and increasing the number of police on the beat. Even for street crime, it would be folly to take that investment in the police out.
Mr. Duncan Smith: The Prime Minister for ever says that he will be judged on exactly how effective the measures are that he is taking, but street crime has actually increased by more than 30 per cent. over the last year, and doubled in the last three years. So, presumably, by his own measure, he must now be failing. In the spending review of 2000, the Home Office promised to cut recorded robberies by 14 per cent. Will the Prime Minister tell us whether the Government are now on track to achieve that as well?
The Prime Minister: What I can tell the right hon. Gentleman is that, as a result of the additional measures that we are taking on street crime, we will indeed—as I have said before—get street crime under control by the end of September, as we said we would. I think that he will see from the initiatives being taken, particularly the safer streets initiative in London, that we will do that. Of course, overall, crime under this Government has fallen, not risen, whereas it doubled in the 18 years of Conservative government. However, if he is serious in his commitment to the fight against crime, there is the Proceeds of Crime Bill that is now before the other House. According to the police, that measure is essential to deal with drug dealers and others who can secret their assets. I ask him now to reverse the position of the Conservative party and to support what is an essential measure in the fight against crime.
Mr. Duncan Smith: The Prime Minister never lets the facts get in the way of a good bit of spin. He knows that we supported that legislation, and that we voted in favour of the confiscation of assets from criminals, particularly drug dealers. So instead of pretending the other case at the Dispatch Box, would he like to apologise and say that he was wrong? The Prime Minister was asked a direct question. The answer to the question of whether the number of recorded robberies has risen is that it has increased by more than a quarter in the past year, so he is failing on that measure as well. He then referred to the pledge that he says he made in September. I have checked through the public service agreements and the comprehensive spending review, and I cannot find a single reference to the pledge that the Prime Minister made in April to reduce street crime to below its April levels by the end of September. Will he make that pledge again today?
The Prime Minister: I have just made it a moment ago, in the answer that I gave. [Interruption.] I did: I said that, as I indicated before, by the end of September we must have street crime under control. That is precisely why we are taking the initiatives that are necessary. That is why, for example, we are tightening up on bail, making sure that more police are on the streets and that magistrates courts work more effectively, and getting cases to court quicker. Let him now deal with this point. Each and every one of those initiatives—more police, better working of magistrates courts, better working of the criminal justice system—requires extra investment. Let the right hon. Gentleman come to the Dispatch Box and commit himself to supporting that investment.
Mr. Duncan Smith: "The level of public spending is no longer the best measure of the effectiveness of government".
That is what the Prime Minister said in 1997, so every time his figures go wrong, there is failure on the streets, and violent crime and robberies rise, it is no good his saying, "We're just going to spend a bit more money and it's all going to be all right." That is his problem. Back in April, the Prime Minister said not just that street crime would be under control; in an interview with Mr. Paxman on "Newsnight", he said that he would reduce the levels of street crime to below the April level. Instead of fiddling figures that he does not even include in his publications, will he now pledge to do just that?
The Prime Minister: I shall certainly repeat exactly what I said to Mr. Paxman. What is more, I agree that street crime has gone up—I admitted that in my first answer to the question. However, I then described what we were doing to get it back down again, and exactly those measures—particularly the extra money that we are putting into the police—are essential to that. Whether it is the police, education, health or transport, how on earth can it be that we make the problems in our public services better by cutting the vital investment that they depend on?
Mr. Michael Clapham: My right hon. Friend will recall that, following the Fairchild decision—and while we were awaiting the House of Lords judgment—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions initiated the pneumoconiosis compensation scheme to allow payments to be made to mesothelioma sufferers who had made claims against the company. Will he consider reopening or extending the pneumoconiosis compensation scheme to cover claimants who have made claims against Turner and Newall because the parent company, Federal Mogul, has gone to court in America to file for administration and it could be several years before the case is resolved? Will my right hon. Friend therefore consider advising that the scheme be extended to cover those claims?
The Prime Minister: I think that my hon. Friend knows that we are considering representations that he and others have made. I know that he and other hon. Members have met the company's administrators and a meeting with representatives of the Department of Trade and Industry and others has been arranged. The Government have also been in discussion with the administrators, and understand that they are actively looking at ways in which urgent claims can be dealt with prior to the conclusion of the administration of Turner and Newall.
The best that I can tell my hon. Friend at this moment in time is that we are listening carefully to what he says. He knows about the technical and legal problems involved in extending coverage of the scheme, but we are taking an active interest in negotiations, and I hope that they can be brought to a successful conclusion.
Mr. Charles Kennedy: The United States Administration are taking the view that further military action against Iraq would not require new United Nations security resolutions. Does the Prime Minister agree?
The Prime Minister: We must certainly take any action in accordance with international law, but as the Foreign Secretary made clear when he spoke about this is the House a few months ago, that does not necessarily mean that there will be a new United Nations resolution. However, we will make sure that whatever we do—as I say constantly, no decisions have yet been taken—should be in accordance with international law.
Mr. Kennedy: Turning to the role of the House, if in due course further military action is considered appropriate against Iraq and if British forces were involved, would that be subject both to the debate that the Prime Minister has pledged and to an affirmative supportive vote in the House of Commons?
The Prime Minister: As I said when I appeared before the Liaison Committee yesterday, at present we have no proposals to put before the House, but we will obviously consider how best to consult the House properly should any such action arise. However, I emphasise to the right hon. Gentleman and others that no decisions have yet been taken. I emphasise, too, that we have to deal with the issue of weapons of mass destruction and Iraq—it will not go away. There are many different ways of dealing with it, but we do have to deal with it.
Mr. Duncan Smith: Last month, the Prime Minister told the House that the stock market was "massively up" since the pensions tax was imposed in 1997. Will he tell the House how massively up it is now?
The Prime Minister: It will not have escaped the right hon. Gentleman's notice, nor anyone else's, that our stock market has fallen, as has every stock market around the world, including in America and Europe. The idea that that fall is unique to Britain is an indication only of the total opportunism of the Conservative party.
Mr. Duncan Smith: Early on, when he was first elected, the Prime Minister loved to take responsibility for a rising stock market. Strangely enough, it is now somebody else's fault—as ever. I notice that the Prime Minister has not turned to the Chancellor for advice this time, but perhaps he ought to. Since that period in 1997, stock markets in Europe and the US have risen by 8 per cent., whereas ours is now down by 15 per cent.
Not only did the Prime Minister get the matter wrong, he also said at the time that the pensions tax was justified because of "the buoyancy of the stock market." Does he believe that the pensions tax is still justified by the buoyancy of the stock market?
The Prime Minister: I do believe that it is justified. What is more, when I read the debate on the subject the other day, I noted that the spokesman for the Conservative party was asked whether he would reverse the measure. He said that he would not, which renders the right hon. Gentleman's question slightly absurd. The idea that the stock market has fallen because of something to do with the British economy is incorrect, as stock markets all around Europe and America have fallen.
However, there are differences between the state of the UK economy now and a few years ago: we now have the lowest interest rates for about 30 years, the lowest unemployment for 25 years, and the lowest inflation rate in Europe. Another difference is the absence of that old Tory theme of boom and bust—and thank goodness for that.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd: A fortnight ago, the Prime Minister rightly told the House that one of the biggest challenges facing the G8 countries was conflict resolution in Africa. Is it not unfortunate that his Government continue to sell arms to African states? In particular, does he regret the fact that his Government sanctioned the sale of arms to all five combatants in the Congo?
The Prime Minister: We actually have very strict rules on the sale of weapons to conflict areas, but I take exception to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question. I think it important for this to be said clearly, and to be clearly on the record. The arms industry and related industries in this country employ about 100,000 people. There is nothing wrong with that industry's being successful and making sales to overseas Governments. What we must do, however, is ensure that they are not involved in the type of serious conflict that is happening in parts of Africa. That is precisely why we have such strict rules governing the export of arms. But if we were to do what the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues want and halt all arms sales by British companies around the world, that would have a devastating effect on many people's jobs.
Incidently oxwsan, you may have wondered about Charlie Kennedy and IDS and the number of questions they get. IDS, as Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition gets 6 questions to the PM. Charlie, as leader of the thrid largest party in the Commons gets 2.
I like question time; I wouldn't want a leader who couldn't justify himself under serious questioning; even when you allow for the soft questions from the labour benches, there are enough tough ones there. It is a shame that Blair has, to some extent, appeared to have been able to distract attention from Question Time and from parliamentary debate in general. I hope that his successor as Prime Minister doesn't do the same.
If things carry on and Labour stay in power, there won't be a QT for much longer. The ability to think on ones feet will no longer be a prerequisite and it will stop Prescott looking like a Gibbon when he takes over while the PM is in Tuscany.
I agree with you Smug. I like Question Time. I don't see at the moment how it could be adapted to American politics. No president would agree to it--including me if I were ever to be president. Relax, that event is near a googol plex to one in odds.
The press conferences that Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense has daily are almost that rough and tumble except that Rumsfeld always remains cooly in charge and Blair did not in the last QT I saw. But it is intriguing and most interesting. How long has it been going on? Just back to Thatcher or long before that?
The questions the party leaders asked were always more decisive and direct than those asked by party members and were more direct and incisive than questions reporters ask Rumsfeld or Press Secretary Ari Fleischer who in my opinion does a
fantastic job as Press Secretary. We get it here every Sunday at 8PM covering the QT of the previous Wed. It is repeated Sunday at midnight. Then Wednesday for one hour at 8PM there is Commons in session---I will find out this next Wednesday what that entails. CSPAN gets a lot of my attention on TV. All of the hearings of Copngressional Committees are broadcast in there entirety (except for the Select Intelligence Committee). I watch the committee hearings to determine the efficacy of my Congressmen. We have two CSPAN channels one the House of Representatives and the other the Senate. Every thing is taped. I don't know how much they clean it up if at all.