Wednesday, March 25, 2009

PMQs: Labour MPs Desert Harriet?

A Tory MP emails me...

I thought I would just mention a point about PMQs which may not have been apparent on television. Usually, there are plenty of Labour MPs jumping up and down trying to catch the Speaker’s eye. The Parliamentary convention is that the Speaker will select questioners by alternating from Government and Opposition sides of the chamber (sometimes, names on the Order Paper, sometimes ‘free hits’). However, today there were so few Labour MPs standing up that the Speaker called three opposition MPs in a row. He then called Tony Lloyd who had his name on the Order Paper to be called later. By this time, the Labour whips were scuttling round the chamber to get volunteers to stand up and John McFall got called (to his obvious frustration) and asked a horribly unprepared question.

It was an embarrassing display from the Parliamentary Labour Party.

I didn't see PMQs today as I was interviewing Cherie Blair (and very enjoyable it was too), so I am relying on my readers to tell me what happened. Go for it!


Not a sheep said...

Harriet Harman turned and twisted on the wind but failed to answer William Hague's question about Mervyn King. She also fixated on one comment about inheritance tax and must have used it half a dozen times; stuck record does not get close. Her last answer redefined the word shrill for me.

Ian Simcox said...

I didn't see it, but the BBC and Guardian reports I've read suggest it was more of the usual "I'm a Labour minister so I'm not going to bother answering your question".

Harperson spoke about inheritance tax 5 or 6 times, mostly in response to questions that had nothing to do with inheritance tax, or even tax in general.

The Speaker showed his bias once again by admonishing a Conservative MP for reading a question only a week after he allowed the PM to read a written response to the house (you could tell it was written, Brown couldn't manage more than 3 words without having to look back at his paper again).

Plato said...

She stayed standing but trotted out a load of rubbish.

That Millionaires Manifesto was sooooooo old class warfare. I'd pay IHT on my house if I pegged it.

I wouldn't describe myself as 'super-rich' or a millionaire.

Still it's nice to have to hear 'do nothing' again.

BTW - everyone seemed to forget to mention brave fallen troops this week.

Conand said...

Yep, I did notice that we weren't quite so flooded with patsy questions. A great day for democracy, if not for the PLP.

In all honesty I can't say who won because Harman wouldn't answer the questions. I think that because of the unanswered questions it was the British people who lost.

PS: The Government suffered the biggest failure of a guilt auction ever this morning:

So the British people have lost out twice over today already.

Anonymous said...

Is there any reason to see King having an audience with Queenie as anything out of the ordinary?

Lord Elvis of Paisley said...

Harriet was an absolute disgrace today, and chose the old line of reading from the prepared script and ignoring the question that was put to her. Her last response to Justine Greening was remarkably bad.

Lexander said...

Well, somebody's got to do it Ian (better you than me). But back to the display in the house from Labour definitely reveals Harman does not have enough "friends". She was absolutely disgraceful.

Ed said...

Poor home work and preparation meant that Harriet Harman was unable to convincingly answer (or side step) William Hague's 'yes or no' questioning.

The best questions focused on the deportation of terror suspects, the Armed Forces Pay Review announcement and the plight of the car industry.

Unknown said...

I did notice the lack of labour MP questions this time around actually. Although stupidly I thought it was Gorbals Mick being partisan for once rather, than following his traditional pattern of 90% of the questions being nice underarm balls from the Labour benches.

I was disappointed today though. Harriet clearly set out her stall to be attacking, and not to be so easily toyed with like she was last time. It worked. She was still rubbish as usual, but she wasn't as mouse being hit from side to side by a cats paw this time.

Hague was somewhat subdued from his usual. I expected him to really go after her but he didn't. Maybe he was worried about coming across as a bully, and Harriet getting undeserved sympathy as a result? Nevertheless he did get a quip or two in. My favourite was when she went on about Tory chaos on inheritance tax, and he replied with, "The question wasn't about that, but I can see why the niece of the countess of [didn't catch that bit] would be concerned with inheritance tax!" Haha!

Roger Thornhill said...

Why are you interviewing Booth? She is a barrister.

Do us all a favour and stop giving her limelight. Its like watching someone buy a drink for an alcoholic.

Anonymous said...

Scan -

1) The Queen has not had an official meeting with a Governor of the Bank of England before. In a reign of nearly 60 years, that definitely makes it something unusual.

2)It is interesting that Her Majesty appears to be getting a second opinion about the economy from someone who disagrees with the Prime Minister.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Conand, if the Government are truly auctioning "guilt",then I am afraid they will flood the market, for they have that commodity in bulk.

Conand said...

*Whoops! I meant 'gilt auction' obviously. They're still gilty though.

Conand said...

Well spotted Weasel.

I have issued a correction. I agree with what you say.

Unsworth said...

Harman, shrill, playground shouting, irrelevant. Not able to take even one of Hague's questions head on. Clearly not Prime Ministerial material and hardly intelligible on occasions. This woman has absolutely no gravitas at all. Her Parliamentary career is over.

Hague was a touch subdued but a confident urbane performance which highlighted Harman's lack of ability, lack of preparation, and (despite her breeding) lack of class. Nicely turned phrases, the occasional stiletto thrust going home very well. I'm surprised that Hague did not point out that Harman herself would do very nicely out of the Conservative Tax Proposals, as would many of her Labour colleagues.

Why is it that Labour are allowed to continue with the fiction that all millionaires are Tories? A close look at their own benches (and those in The Lords) would immediately prove otherwise. 'Challenge' seems to be the Nulab term. Maybe they should be 'challenged' on this fiction, too.

Blaad said...

Conand - Made me giggle.

There simply aren't enough people with spare cash to pay for all their guilt in any case.

As an aside, I am aware many people who follow this blog also follow Guido.

I have 'cancelled my subscription' after a highly offensive response to my very reasonable post was allowed. I know some of the language on there is 'ripe' at best but I think it's getting a bit out of hand.

Shame really as it was generally quite entertaining.

50 Calibre said...

She was a shambles. She gave the same answer to 4 different questions and she didn't answer the lulu about whether or not the government agreed with Mr King's little bombshell despite Mr Hague giving her 3 opportunities so to do.

I don't really see thye point of PMQs anymore. The questions are just not answered. Brown and Harman don't even try. I think they've thrown the towell in and it's just a question of time.

The failure of the G20 to deliver for Brown will be a few more nails in his rotting coffin.

DiscoveredJoys said...

I think Harriet Harman did her best, but apart from the phrase 'Millionaires Manifesto' she landed no blows. William Hague was good and kept pressing for 'the Government's' response to Mervyn King's statement yesterday.

Vince Cable asked a great question about yesterday's overthrow of the Government by Mervyn King, but spoilt it by over-egging the analogy.

Perhaps the Conservatives can adopt the Millionaires Manifesto sound byte? Eg if the Government keep borrowing and easing we'll ALL be millionaires - because a loaf of bread will cost a millon pounds!

Anonymous said...

Interviewing Cherie Blair ... Well there is a depression so I guess you just have to prostitute yourself.

And did you ask the really hard questions?

Jon Lishman said...

I goofed-off to watch the main event. Not really worth it. A bright spot was Harman's (inevitable) mistake. Something like: "the RHG is wrong that it's not yet working, the business loans scheme has helped 93(!) businesses up and down the country." Cue general hilarity.

Apart from that, much as has been reported here, although I would add that Hague is certainly maturing (like an old port, I suppose - Grimsby?). Impressive guy, though he seemed a bit non-plussed - as did everyone - by Harman simply repeating shrilly what clearly were nonsensical statements, accusations and soundbites (rather than answers) dictated hastily to her over the phone by her long-term AWOL boss.

Poor old Lib Dem supporters must be wondering who their leader actually is these days, so often is Brown absent - and therefore, obviously, by curious convention, Neil Clegg (Is it Neil? I've forgotten). It's not really a problem for Cameron probably because everyone knows he's the other half of the big show.

Be interesting to find out who's actually asked more questions for the LDs in PMQs so far this term: Clegg or Cable.

I'd put a fiver on Vinny.

Unknown said...


Well that was a stupid comment wasn't it?

PMQ's with the PM present occurs 90% of the time, during which Nick Clegg asks his 2 questions.

The other 10% of the time it's the deputies, and as such Nick Clegg, like Cameron, doesn't show up. During this time Vince Cable gets 2 questions.

So, even if you employ a discredited branch of mathematics, just how the hell could Vince have asked more questions?


moorlandhunter said...

She sounded like a schoolmistress trying to shout down, and losing it before a classroom of children. I loved the retort Tory William quipped at her, about her being the niece of a rich Countess; a clear cutting remark to the double standards she and the other Champagne socialists loved to forget when they spout on about their socialist roots.
She kept on about IHT stating that only the super rich would get a break if the threshold was raised to £1million, but she has little understanding that ordinary people with parents who have houses in London, the home counties or in other areas where houses have risen in value that were bought cheaply years ago and now worth £300,000 to £500,000 will have to pay a huge amount of tax if the threshold is not raised to that level.
I cannot wait to see this Labour government kicked out of office. Oh and not a reply to the questions asked about the B of E.

Tory Teacake said...

It was Harperson's repeated 'tax cuts for 3000 millionaires' jibe that had me yelling at the TV.

Now I'm sure I recall that the whole point of IHT was that those over the threshold paid...

The last time I looked, to be a millionaire, one had to have over a million pounds...

So by raising the threshold to 1 million, the Tories are 'giving tax cuts to millionaires'???! Something doesn't really make sense here.

Maybe Hattie would like someone to explain to her how IHT works?

As for the figure of 3000!? A figure plucked from thin air? It's a little too conveniently a nice round number for my liking.

There are (at last estimate, it's probably a little lower now) 425000 millionaires in the UK as a result of the increase in house prices (again slight pinch of salt!), not 3000.

As for the number of people whose homes are worth more than £312,000, the current threshold, who will benefit from the scheme? There are certainly more than AND surprisingly enough, given how the system works, they are not millionaires.

I also thought that her mock outrage at the whole £2 billion this will 'cost' (ignoring the plans to fund it by tax rises) is a bit rich coming from the government who have wasted how many billion into the pointless VAT cut?

Chris Paul said...

Not sure the record will actually show any lack of willing and reasonably fluent government-side questions. And the opposition side questions were also fairly thin and fairly non-hostile. It was DPMQs after all. Lloydy's probably was meant to be last or second last to the asbestos question. There is a Westminster Hall debate on asbestos starting in 35 minutes.

Having watched the whole thing I think your informant should be outed as a complete thicko.

Ian 1:08: It was in fact Labour's Andrew Dismore who got a slap for putting a supplementary and whining on a bit.

Chris Paul said...

Niece of Baroness Longford ... there was a good one the other way too. Harriet referred to "the Shadow Chancellor" meaning Ken Clarke. Nice work. GOO looked disturbed.

Chris Paul said...

The IHT threshhold is £300,000 (plus £300,000 for couples i.e. £600,000). So a £500,000 houes that had been owned by a couple, including unmarried variants, would not be subject to a "huge amount of tax". None at all most likely. And that's even without tax planning being implemented. £2,000,000 as a threshhold does take us into a pretty rarified level. And with just 3,000 estates per annum between the two positions this is something of a rich-get-richer piece of dog whistling from the Tories. Once unpacked it's crap. But it takes some unpacking as even learned comments on Iain Dale's learned blog more than six months after the Tory dog whistle do indicate.

Why the hell shouldn't people pay some tax if they've enjoyed fortuitous but humungous gains in the property market?

Why should 50 million poorer people subsidise 3000 millionaires?

Alix said...


I think she must have meant 3 million (and as has been correctly pointed out, they're not necessarily millionaires. Seems generally to have a dodgy grasp of her zeroes. The Labour position is that IHT affects about 6% of the population (60m x 6% = 3.6m). The true position after house prices increases is nearer 10% at 6 million, disproportionately concentrated in the SE - although that was at the height of the market in 2007 and it may be marginally on its way down again.

But even at its maximum, IHT still doesn't affect most people. You guys really do leave yourself wide open to the class hatred rubbish by touting it as your central policy plank. Or not as the case may be. Ken Clarke's instinct to play it down is bang on - I should listen to the man if I were youse.

Liz said...

so that explains the number of opposition MP's called........HH gave an appalling and screechy performance
Incidentally, Ian (apologies for using your Blog rather than your email) I was in Paris the other day and hoped to find Total Politics in WH Smith - sadly no such luck......

Plenty said...

Harman cocked it up from the very first question saying that they had saved 93 small business, when infact, it more like 93, 000 - she was throttled by Hague and as usual had nothing to say but hot air and harp on about old hat stuff that was 1980s politics. eg Tory class wars etc.

Unknown said...

Shadow Shadow Chancellor you mean? Isn't that the same one that Brown repeats every single week?

Hardly off the cuff was it?

Labour have a few stock phrases that they just repeat and rotate. It's terribly boring and just shows the utter contempt for which they hold the public.

Salmondnet said...

I don't think even Hattie was taking her answers seriously. A couple of times when she sat down she seemed to be giggling like a schoolgirl who knows she has just fluffed a poetry recital.

Anonymous said...

Watching the body language, is Harriet Harman in love with Hague? She got out some terrible one liner at the end about millionaires and positively simpered at him.
She looked rather pretty.

Jon Lishman said...


By "this term" I meant "since their last holidays".

The point is not the joke about PMQs and Clegg, it's about the latter's subsequent low profile - as well you know.

Before you start calling people 'idiots' perhaps you should think about your own woeful contribution. Faulty observations like:

"Well that was a stupid comment wasn't it?
PMQ's with the PM present occurs 90% of the time..."

hardly apply to the past few weeks now do they? Well do they, idiot?

My substantive point still holds regardless: Clegg is suffering severely from his deputy's high profile, largely forced on the idiot (word of the day!) Lib Dem leader by Brown's many recent absences from PMQs.

And you're not really an idiot. Just a twat.

Unknown said...


My my. Someone doesn't like being taken to task do they?

"No no, I meant since their holidays! Honest gov!"


@Chris Paul

Well aren't we disingenuous today?

It's true that now MARRIED couples can use each other's nil rate band within 7 years of their death, but it's not the solution you claim it is.

So, let's take a married couple with a £500,000 property. Say the husband dies. His wife then has to die within 7 years, or his nil rate band expires, and their children have to pay IHT on £200,000

Now, there are many many many people in Britain who can be caught by this type of trap, and as you can see, they aren't millionaires.

Try again though. You apparatchik.

Unsworth said...

@ Chris Paul

"Why the hell shouldn't people pay some tax if they've enjoyed fortuitous but humungous gains in the property market"

Oh dear! I suppose you do understand that many people are/were relying on the value of their houses to provide some sort of pension after Brown had all but destroyed private pensions? Of course he'll tax the only thing of any value remaining to them. That's what he does, isn't it?

Jon Lishman said...


Sorry, mate. You've lost me.


Anonymous said...

Harman came across as a shrieking haridan and didn't answer the question Hague kept throwing at her.
Hague was subdued and statesman like, but didn't really get in a big hit.

Why do the Tories keep pressing on the economy? Cameron does it every week too.
I realise it's important, but they may have more success if they changed the agenda.
Camerons best moment was when he had Brown floundering when asked about "baby P", but then it's back to the economy.