PMQs review: Cameron stands by his man (that's Adrian Beecroft)

"You love the rich"; "you love the unions"; repeat, ad infinitum

It was a lively contest at PMQs today, with the Battle of Beecroft dominating Ed Miliband’s attack.

The Labour leader opened with a direct question. He said that Adrian Beecroft wants the law changed so that people can be fired at will, while the Business Secretary thinks this is “bonkers”. Who does David Cameron agree with? The Prime Minister evaded, saying that the government wants to make it easier for firms to expand.

The Beecroft report has become something of a political hot potato, so it’s interesting that Cameron did not separate himself from it – indeed, quite the contrary. He pointed out that he commissioned it, and said “It was a good report and it is right that we take forward its best measures”. Whether this is to pacify major donor Beecroft or the restive backbenches, or whether he genuinely stands by the report, we cannot know.

As Miliband went hard on the no fault dismissal issue, Cameron, lacking a strong argument with which to respond, fired back the obvious gag: “He’s afraid of being fired at will for being incompetent”.

The amount of time that the Labour leader dedicated to attacking Cameron on the report is telling, and could indicate not just an attempt to capitalise on tensions within the coalition, but to highlight possible areas of Lib-Lab co-operation.

Apart from these tactical concerns, it feeds very easily into the “out of touch Tories” narrative, and perhaps Miliband’s strongest line was this: “Millions of people are scared about their jobs and the Prime Minister’s response is to make it easier to sack them”. He drew an effective contrast between ordinary families fearing for their livelihoods and Cameron’s assertion last week that things are moving in the right direction.

However, calling the Tories out of touch was never going to take Cameron by surprise, and the Prime Minister, armed with numbers about union donations, gave as good as he got. He said that Miliband is getting £900,000 from Unite, which is threatening a bus drivers' strike during the Olympics. His answer to the out of touch charge was that “there are two parties over here acting in the national interest, and another one acting in the unions’ interest.”

Miliband had a clear answer to this, pointing out that rich Tory party donors stood to gain from the 50p tax cut: “Tax cuts for millionaires, making it easier to sack people – the nasty party is back”. As my colleague Rafael Behr has just blogged, government is worried that no fault dismissal could prove to be just as toxic as cutting 50p tax has proven to be.

This was a spirited and focussed sparring match, but ultimately it boiled down (as it so very often does – this is PMQs, after all) to glorified name calling and finger pointing. You love the rich; you love the unions; repeat, ad infinitum. Overall, probably a minor win for Miliband, but it was a very close match.
 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

“It was like a religious ceremony”: What happened at Big Ben’s final bong?

Both inside and outside Parliament, people gathered to hear the clock’s final midday chime before undergoing repairs.

“It’s just hacks everywhere,” a photographer sighs, jamming his lens through a gap in Parliament’s railings to try and get a closer look.

New Palace Yard, Parliament’s courtyard directly below Big Ben, is filling with amused-looking journalists, waiting for the MPs who have promised to hold a “silent vigil”, heads bowed, to mark Big Ben’s final chime before four years of silence while the tower’s repaired.

About four of them turn up. Two by accident.

It’s five minutes to twelve. Tourists are gathering outside Westminster Tube, as tourists do best. A bigger crowd fills Parliament Square. More people than expected congregate outside, even if it’s the opposite within the Palace. The world and his phone are gazing up at the sad, resigned clock face.


“It’s quite controversial, isn’t it?” one elderly woman in an anorak asks her friend. They shrug and walk off. “Do you know what is this?” an Italian tourist politely asks the tiny press pack, gesturing to the courtyard. No one replies. It’s a good question.

“This is the last time,” says another tourist, elated, Instagram-poised.

“DING DONG DING DONG,” the old bell begins.

Heads down, phones up.


It finishes the on-the-hour tune for the last time, and then gives its much-anticipated resignation statement:

“BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG.”

Applause, cheers, and even some tears.


But while the silly-seasoned journalists snigger, the crowd is enthusiastic.

“It’s quite emotional,” says David Lear, a 52-year-old carer from Essex, who came up to London today with his work and waited 45 minutes beneath Big Ben to hear it chime.

He feels “very, very sad” that the bell is falling silent, and finds the MPs’ vigil respectful. “I think lots of people feel quite strongly about it. I don’t know why they’re doing it. During the war it carries on, and then they turn it off for a health and safety reason.”

“I don’t know why they can’t have some speakers half way down it and just play the chime,” he adds. “So many tourists come especially to listen to the chime, they gather round here, getting ready for it to go – and they’re going to switch it off. It’s crazy.”

Indeed, most of the surrounding crowd appears to be made up of tourists. “I think that it was gorgeous, because I’ve never heard him,” smiles Cora, an 18-year-old German tourist. “It was a great experience.”

An Australian couple in their sixties called Jane and Gary are visiting London for a week. “It was like a religious ceremony, everybody went quiet,” laughs Gary. “I hope they don’t forget where they put the keys to start it again in four years’ time.”

“When we first got here, the first thing we did was come to see it,” adds Jane, who is also positive about the MPs who turned up to watch. “I think it’s good they showed a bit of respect. Because they don’t usually show much respect, do they?”

And, as MPs mouthing off about Big Ben are challenged on their contrasting reactions to Grenfell, that is precisely the problem with an otherwise innocent show of sentimentality.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.