Merry Christmas to Ed Miliband who, for the second week on the trot, nailed David Cameron in Prime Minister’s Questions. After wasting questions on Afghanistan which could have been more effectively used to drive his second point home, he did indeed demonstrate how (yes, I’m going to use the phrase I hate most) “out of touch” the Conservative Party under Cameron really is. The fact is that the ministerial team under the guidance and sway of Cameron and Osborne just have no idea what’s going on in the country. Perhaps they should ask their grassroots campaigners, councils and activists – because all this PMQs has demonstrated is that Cameron and Co. are very effective at using statistics, and not very good at understanding what’s going on in The Real World.
After some questions about Afghanistan, Ed Miliband asked the Prime Minister if Cameron was as concerned as he was about the fact that six times as many people in the last three years have grown to depend on food banks. This is a really startling statistic: we knew that the number would go up, but this is a huge increase. Cameron responded by saying that this was an example of the Big Society – voluntary sector helping individuals, rather than the government. His response couldn’t have been more shocking and horrifying. As Miliband correctly pointed out, if the “Big Society” was founded on the fact that charity should feed the working population of Britain, then the Big Society as a concept is as “Dickensian” as a Labour MP later pointed out. That was never meant to be what the Big Society was about – an incredibly huge and damaging way for Cameron to respond. Cameron then replied by saying that he’d frozen council tax, and raised the personal allowance for income tax. As has been previously noted, the people affected by the income tax amendments stand to benefit by approximately 90p a week, and freezing council tax doesn’t help anybody in real terms – merely prevents the situation from getting worse. So how, exactly, is the Coalition helping anybody here? Cameron likes to go on about how he taxes the rich more than Labour did, but God only knows what he is spending it on – because the answer is, without a doubt, not the poor and vulnerable. The whole point of a government for many, and a large part of the government’s purpose for the remainder, is that we safeguard the interests of people who can’t safeguard their own. Cameron doesn’t even seem to acknowledge the number of people that have been really terribly affected by the events of the last three years. Does he think they don’t exist? That if he brushes them under the carpet, and throws some statistics at us, we won’t realise what a mess some people are in – and how, contrary to the “strivers” versus “slackers” argument, these people are suffering through no fault of their own? I wonder what his own backbenchers think of his appalling performance on this series of questions.
But, on the other hand, precisely what are Labour offering as an alternative? It was noted by Cameron that they, as usual, offer a “something for nothing culture” that is simply unsustainable. They acknowledge (well, Andy Burnham does) that it would be “irresponsible” to spend more on the NHS. Where, however, would they cut? What exactly what they do to fix the mess we’re in? The answer, as usual is: nobody has a clue.
Rob Wilson, Tory MP for Reading East, asked the PM about the fabrication of testimony by police officers in the Mitchell case. Cameron confirmed that the PCC would be supervising the Met Police in investigating this. His response couldn’t have been more disappointing. Does he understand that Andrew Mitchell’s political life is currently in tatters around his feet, and that it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the police have maliciously conspired to target a Cabinet Minister? The lies the police are guilty of in this case could be extensive. Mitchell lost his temper, he swore at officers, and apologised for this profusely. We all get angry, we all make mistakes, we need to let that go. He maintains that he didn’t call the officers “plebs” – until it’s actually proven, by credible sources, I’m going to believe him.
Finally, on the topic of European immigration, a Conservative MP asked Cameron what he was going to do, and if the “national interest” clause with Europe can be enacted, to prevent influxes of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants entering Britain when they become part of the European Union, with criminal records or the intent to abuse our benefits system. The truth, as Cameron noted, is that the national interest clause can only be used in emergencies – this wouldn’t be considered an emergency. Two things need to be noted; firstly that immigration is really good for Britain and most immigrants do come with the intention to work, better themselves and their families etc. and we should not be penalising their choice. Open borders has the ability to benefit so many people, and its important we don’t demonise immigration collectively, given the power it has to improve both the recipient country and the individuals who move there. But, secondly, that some people do come here to take advantage of the benefits system – which is why I’ve always supported a minimum term of residence before benefits can be received of a number of years for foreign nationals. Moving countries should not make you a burden to the country you move to – it was the decision of the individual, and they must be able to sustain and accommodate their own decisions without forcing others (British taxpayers) to pay for them. The responsibility issue comes full circle – we demand that our own population work, or try to work, unless unable to, and this must extend to people of other nations.
The point, ultimately, is that Cameron had none of the right answers today. He demonstrated a total lack of understanding of what the British people have experienced, and still are experiencing. He has a misguided idea of what his government’s policies are doing to and for those people. He’s not fit to run this country for a second term and I sincerely hope the Conservative Party oust him (Lord knows they’ve got form for that) and get someone else in. My vote is for Gove.
And from me: a very Merry Christmas to you all, have a lovely (and restful) break and look forward to writing for you again in 2013!