By Joe Mellor, Deputy Editor
Today’s PMQs were considered, respectful and…boring. This might be what the public claim they want, but would they actually watch that every week? I mean who doesn’t tune in for live environmental, food and rural affairs questions with Liz Truss on BBC Parliament (Thurs 9.30am, as if you didn’t know).
Hilary Benn stood in for, well, an empty space and Gideon took up the reins for the Tories. Perhaps they could have given the Labour leadership challengers a go at PMQs each week. The PM could even introduce each one, this week we have “the crusty old lefty”, “the Tory”, “Ed Ball’s missus” and “the Health Sec during the Mid-Staffs scandal”.
The confrontational nature is what makes this session interesting to the wider public, and today it had the cut and thrust of a bring-and-buy sale, in Salisbury. Hilary Benn, Lab, is no firebrand like his late father, and delivered the questions like a tax accountant suffering with a recurrent back problem.
This was Gideon’s chance to shine and prove he has what it takes to be a PM, but Benn’s sober questioning about Islamic radicalisation, didn’t really give him any wriggle room. He even made a pre-written joke, which was misjudged due to the severity of the question he was asked, which was in fairly poor taste.
To be fair to Osborne, he was very well received by his own party and I promised myself I wasn’t going to make any poor drug puns or any snide remarks about alleged narcotic activities. It is cheap and childish, if he was going to try and be prime ministerial, so was I.
He finally got into his comfort zone when Benn finished his questions and got rubbed down by his osteopath. Nigel Huddleston, Con, asked a question about access to pensions, Gideon responded saying, “we need pension freedoms for people who have worked hard and saved all their lives…to be ripped off by investment cowboys, “ Ok, he didn’t say the last bit, but I will eat a Paddy Ashdown sized hat if it doesn’t happen.
Osborne went on to praise the “Northern Powerhouse,” on landing the world’s largest science experiment, and he wasn’t even talking about fracking, it was the decision to host the world’s largest radio telescope at Jodrell Bank near Manchester.
But the stand-in PM was asked a question about the controversial gas extraction process from Geraint Davies, Lab, who was concerned about the possibility of unsafe waste water. Gideon was resolute, “we shouldn’t turn our back on the jobs potential and all the other (tectonic) activity if it happened elsewhere in the world”. Again, he didn’t say the word tectonic and again, keep the hat on ice.
What was strange is that for a man, who I assume was behind the “Long term economic plan” nonsense, he only managed to get “economic plan” out, on the two occasions when he tried to nail the famous slogan, which was rather odd.
Someone who doesn’t need an economic plan long or short is Richard Drax, Con, MP for South Dorset who appears so upper-class and has a surname that conjures up images medieval fiefdoms, you get the impression when he said today “in my constituency”, I assumed he actually owns the entire county.
Sycophantic question of the day
Richard Harrington, Con, who praised the number of apprenticeships in the UK only for Osborne to congratulate him on his recent appointment, as an apprenticeship advisor to the Government. He may as well have worn a badge or had a T-shirt made with this information on, I was quite embarrassed for him.
Gideon, he did OK, and he even got to brag about visiting a factory in Derby, and we know how much he loves to don the hi-vis, it must remind him of the warehouse raves he attended in the late 80s…oops, just goes to show I’m not prime ministerial, but then, let’s be honest, neither is he.