PMQs sketch: Ghostly George and Mottled Dave

Did Cameron own up to the “omnishambles”?


The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland brought his bottom to the House of Commons today and got it a good kicking.

Having spent much of the last month on the run abroad he finally bowed to the inevitable and appeared in public to face the charge of being guilty for the crime of Budget 2012.

Flanked by his co-defendants George Osborne and Nick Clegg,  he was accused of presiding over the “omnishambles” which has led to the worst four weeks in his political life and a double-digit lead for Labour in the opinion polls.

To be fair to David Cameron, he also brought his brass neck to the Commons to help him through the half hour of ritual humiliation otherwise known as Prime Ministers Questions.

But even that was not enough to save him from the taunts of Ed Miliband who happily listed all the disasters and u-turns from pasties to charities which have characterized the Coalition since the budget leaked its way into the public domain.

Even his topped-up tan could not disguise his nervousness as PMQs got underway, and encouraging asides from the architect of the disaster, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, did little to calm him down.

Knowing a beating was on its way had led to survival plans being drawn up. These seemed to include handing out megaphones to selected back benchers who always shout in direct proportion to the trouble their leader is in. The problem for the Prime Minister today was working out who was shouting for him and who at him and that was just from his own side.

Survival Plan Two is the one that Dave has increasingly adopted since Ed M finally got his measure at PMQs, which is to ignore the bit which says "PMQs". So today when Ed asked about cutting taxes for the rich, Dave replied by asking the Labour leader about Ken Livingstone’s opaque attitude to the inland revenue. 

Ken might have been heartened to get more name-checks in 30 minutes from the Prime Minister than he has had in as many months from Ed M, but as ever in his career he was being conjured up to beat his own party around the head.

But even Ed was only momentarily unsettled by this, Dave’s best shot, and pounced back to list the disasters that have turned this budget into a how-not-to-do-it lecture for politicians in years to come.

In one fell swoop the Prime Minister and his pals have managed to upset pensioners, the churches, philanthropists, caravan owners not to mention the population of Cornwall who apparently subsist on a diet of pasties. In fact so loud was the clamour that the good people of Cornwall could have listened to it merely by opening a window.

Speaker Bercow, himself rested after the Easter break and no recent TV appearances by his spouse, was forced to his feet to complain which only served to remind Tory back benchers of someone they dislike maybe even more than Ken.

There have been concerns in Labour circles that Ed M is too nice to out the boot in properly - unlike his Tory opposite number who has at least an A Level in bullying. But it was no more Mr Nice Guy today as Ed, egged on by his much more qualified namesake Ed B, laid it on.

Indeed, as Dave now appeared to be shouting himself down, the two Eds made a joint appeal for calm.

This had the required effect and the Prime Minister’s face took on a mottled hue only spotted towards the top end of the colour chart as he tried to roar his way out of trouble.

All this contrasted well with the ghostly pallor of the Chancellor and his deputy Danny Alexander who have clearly spent the last few weeks hiding out.

Earlier the fourth member of the Quad who collectively delivered the budget had appeared on the Today programme for a light toasting from Evan Davis. In a bravura performance and not withstanding his collapse behind Ukip in the polls, Nick Clegg admitted he would love to be Prime Minister.

But probably not today.

Photo: Getty Images

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

Photo: Getty Images
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I'll vote against bombing Isis - but my conscience is far from clear

Chi Onwurah lays out why she'll be voting against British airstrikes in Syria.

I have spent much of the weekend considering how I will vote on the question of whether the UK should extend airstrikes against Daesh/Isis from Iraq to Syria, seeking out and weighing the evidence and the risks.

My constituents have written, emailed, tweeted, facebooked or stopped me in the street to share their thoughts. Most recognised what a difficult and complex decision it is. When I was selected to be the Labour candidate for Newcastle Central I was asked what I thought would be the hardest part of being an MP.

I said it would be this.

I am not a pacifist, I believe our country is worth defending and our values worth fighting for. But the decision to send British Armed Forces into action is, rightly, a heavy responsibility.

For me it comes down to two key questions. The security of British citizens, and the avoidance of civilian casualties. These are separate operational and moral questions but they are linked in that it is civilian casualties which help fuel the Daesh ideology that we cannot respect and value the lives of those who do not believe as we do. There is also the important question of solidarity with the French in the wake of their grievous and devastating loss; I shall come to that later.

I listened very carefully to the Prime Minister as he set out the case for airstrikes on Thursday and I share his view that Daesh represents a real threat to UK citizens. However he did not convince me that UK airstrikes at this time would materially reduce that threat. The Prime Minister was clear that Daesh cannot be defeated from the air. The situation in Syria is complex and factionalised, with many state and non-state actors who may be enemies of our enemy and yet not our friend. The Prime Minister claimed there were 70,000 ground troops in the moderate Free Syrian Army but many experts dispute that number and the evidence does not convince me that they are in a position to lead an effective ground campaign. Bombs alone will not prevent Daesh obtaining money, arms and more recruits or launching attacks on the UK. The Prime Minister did not set out how we would do that, his was not a plan for security and peace in Syria with airstrikes a necessary support to it, but a plan to bomb Syria, with peace and security cited in support of it. That is not good enough for me.

Daesh are using civilian population as human shields. Syrians in exile speak of the impossibility of targeting the terrorists without hitting innocent bystanders. I fear that bombing Raqqa to eliminate Daesh may be like bombing Gaza to eliminate Hamas – hugely costly in terms of the civilian population and ultimately ineffectual.

Yet the evil that Daesh perpetrate demands a response. President Hollande has called on us to join with French forces. I lived in Paris for three years, I spent time in just about every location that was attacked two weeks ago, I have many friends living in Paris now, I believe the French are our friends and allies and we should stand and act in solidarity with them, and all those who have suffered in Mali, Kenya, Nigeria, Lebanon, Tunisia and around the world.

But there are other ways to act as well as airstrikes. Britain is the only G7 country to meet its international development commitments, we are already one of the biggest humanitarian contributors to stemming the Syrian crisis, we can do more not only in terms of supporting refugees but helping those still in Syria, whether living in fear of Daesh or Assad. We can show the world that our response is to build rather than bomb. The Prime Minister argues that without taking part in the bombing we will not have a place at the table for the reconstruction. I would think our allies would be reluctant to overlook our financial commitment.

We can also do more to cut off Daesh funding, targeting their oil wells, their revenues, their customers and their suppliers. This may not be as immediately satisfying as bombing the terrorists but it is a more effective means of strangling them.

The vast majority of the constituents who contacted me were against airstrikes. I agree with them for the reasons I set out above. I should say that I have had no experience of bullying or attempts at intimidation in reaching this decision, Newcastle Central is too friendly, frank, comradely and Geordie a constituency for that. But some have suggested that I should vote against airstrikes to ensure a “clear conscience” ’. This is not the case. There will be more killings and innocent deaths whether there are UK airstrikes or not, and we will all bear a portion of responsibility for them.

A version of this article was originally sent to Chi Onwurah's constituents, and can be read here