PMQs sketch: Insults abound as quaffing beckons

Dave not so chillaxed after questions on vino and socialism.

Ed Balls may or may not be useful to the Labour Party as Shadow Chancellor, but as insulter-in-chief to the Prime Minister he has no match.
Having already been awarded the title of "most annoying man in modern politics" by Dave at a previous encounter, you might have thought that the old Brown bruiser would have been content to rest on his laurels.

But the smell of blood-to-be during the latest round of what purported to be Prime Ministers Questions proved once again too tempting for someone who has got far enough up the PM's nose to operate on his adenoids.

And Ed B was back excavating at his best today when he managed to produce another quality aside from the PM.

Having worked on him for 25 minutes with a variety of selected insults from his notes on bear baiting, Ed finally hit the Dave release button  with an apparent aside about how many glasses of wine the Prime Minister may have had.

Let us point out immediately this was not to suggest Dave had quaffed a couple on his way to the Commons to calm his nerves - but rather a reference to weekend reports that our "chillaxing" PM is reported to knock back a half a bottle of what passes for Vino Collapso in his circles with his Sunday roast.

These reports caused further consternation among the we-are-not-too-sure-about-Dave faction which is being sponsored by the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph. The PM was unhappy, to say the least, with Ed B's contribution from what is known in the House of Commons as a "sedentary position" - and in the real world as sitting down.

Thus Dave rebuked "this muttering idiot sitting opposite me" to the delight of all sides, who had become a bit bored with proceedings anyway as sunshine and quaffing elsewhere beckoned.

Now among the many arcane rules of the Commons chamber is the one that says you can say what you like  as long as the Speaker doesn't hear it - which is just as well for John Bercow bearing in mind what many MPs say about him.

As both sides swapped whatever insults came to hand and Tories demanded more retribution from their leader, Speaker Bercow kept shouting order which seemed rather apposite following the original Ed B insult.

Dave agreed to withdraw the word "idiot" but with all the reluctance of someone who realised he could have withdrawn something considerably ruder had he not been poked so sharply.

Sadly for some the insult that was not withdrawn during PMQs was the shocking suggestion made by a multi-million pound pal of the Prime Minister that the Business Secretary Vince Cable was "a socialist".

The afore-mentioned multi, who made his money forecasting other people's disasters, had shot to sudden fame with a report on cutting red tape for business to encourage employment. One of the more novel ways would be to scrap employment protection, which he admitted could let bosses sack workers just because they didn't like them.

Vince described his plan as "bonkers" - a word clearly only ever used by Karl Marx - and he was immediately denounced.

Proud of demonstrating their Lib-Dem credentials in the coalition government, Vince and his leader Nick Clegg were missing from the Chamber to the relief of Dave and the sadness of the Labour leader Ed Miliband, who could only warm up the PM for the eventual Flashman moment won by his alter-Ed.

Throughout all the jolly proceedings seasoned watchers will have noted the thousand-yard stare of Chancellor George who only absent-mindedly rubbed the bruised parts of his now decidedly un-chillaxed best buddy Dave.

The PM trotted out the European Court of Human Rights - far more threatening than Karl Marx - to try to get back onside with his critics, but you could see his relief when the Speaker thought the nation had had enough and called time.

Meanwhile, Frank Field said the Food Bank believed they would be feeding 500,000 people by the next election.

Photograph: 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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There are risks as well as opportunities ahead for George Osborne

The Chancellor is in a tight spot, but expect his political wiles to be on full display, says Spencer Thompson.

The most significant fiscal event of this parliament will take place in late November, when the Chancellor presents the spending review setting out his plans for funding government departments over the next four years. This week, across Whitehall and up and down the country, ministers, lobbyists, advocacy groups and town halls are busily finalising their pitches ahead of Friday’s deadline for submissions to the review

It is difficult to overstate the challenge faced by the Chancellor. Under his current spending forecast and planned protections for the NHS, schools, defence and international aid spending, other areas of government will need to be cut by 16.4 per cent in real terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Focusing on services spending outside of protected areas, the cumulative cut will reach 26.5 per cent. Despite this, the Chancellor nonetheless has significant room for manoeuvre.

Firstly, under plans unveiled at the budget, the government intends to expand capital investment significantly in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the last parliament capital spending was cut by around a quarter, but between now and 2019-20 it will grow by almost 20 per cent. How this growth in spending should be distributed across departments and between investment projects should be at the heart of the spending review.

In a paper published on Monday, we highlighted three urgent priorities for any additional capital spending: re-balancing transport investment away from London and the greater South East towards the North of England, a £2bn per year boost in public spending on housebuilding, and £1bn of extra investment per year in energy efficiency improvements for fuel-poor households.

Secondly, despite the tough fiscal environment, the Chancellor has the scope to fund a range of areas of policy in dire need of extra resources. These include social care, where rising costs at a time of falling resources are set to generate a severe funding squeeze for local government, 16-19 education, where many 6th-form and FE colleges are at risk of great financial difficulty, and funding a guaranteed paid job for young people in long-term unemployment. Our paper suggests a range of options for how to put these and other areas of policy on a sustainable funding footing.

There is a political angle to this as well. The Conservatives are keen to be seen as a party representing all working people, as shown by the "blue-collar Conservatism" agenda. In addition, the spending review offers the Conservative party the opportunity to return to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ as a going concern.  If they are truly serious about being seen in this light, this should be reflected in a social investment agenda pursued through the spending review that promotes employment and secures a future for public services outside the NHS and schools.

This will come at a cost, however. In our paper, we show how the Chancellor could fund our package of proposed policies without increasing the pain on other areas of government, while remaining consistent with the government’s fiscal rules that require him to reach a surplus on overall government borrowing by 2019-20. We do not agree that the Government needs to reach a surplus in that year. But given this target wont be scrapped ahead of the spending review, we suggest that he should target a slightly lower surplus in 2019/20 of £7bn, with the deficit the year before being £2bn higher. In addition, we propose several revenue-raising measures in line with recent government tax policy that together would unlock an additional £5bn of resource for government departments.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough settlement for government departments and for public services. But the Chancellor does have a range of options open as he plans the upcoming spending review. Expect his reputation as a highly political Chancellor to be on full display.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR