PMQs sketch: A momentarily eerie etiquette

"Pipe down and be good boys".

It is fitting that scientists chose the Palace of Westminster to announce they were 99.999% sure they had found the Higgs boson particle - the final piece of the Standard Model of Particle Physics which theoretically describes the fundamental forces that control our universe - as, just yards away, the controllers of our present slice of infinity were meeting for Prime Minister's Questions.

The intellectual force behind PMQs had been summed up earlier by the Deputy Prime Minister of the coalition government who described himself as being “lobotomised” by the weight of its everyday activity.

Official confirmation by Nick Clegg of what many had suspected for some time was welcomed by observers who looked to PMQs for further confessions, but were 99.999% sure they would not get them.

To be fair to the participants, they knew they were merely making time for the real main event of the day, the appearance of Diamond Bob before the Treasury Select Committee.

But that was not going to stop the Government and its Loyal Opposition fighting like cats in a sack over how we are going to discover just how deep into our pockets he and Barclays bank had stuck their hands.

In an opening performance almost as rare as the Higgs boson itself the Prime Minister and his opposite number confused everyone by trying statesmanlike behaviour.

Unbeknown to their loyal supporters frantic, as usual, to get at their opposite numbers Dave had phoned Ed yesterday and suggested they adopt a non-partisan approach to the planned inquiry into the banks.

This led to total confusion in the Commons as both spent the first five minutes of PMQs being polite to each other. “You first”, indicated Ed as he proposed a softer more edible version of his call for a judge-led inquiry. "No , after you", seemed Dave’s reply as he sweetened his description of his select-committee alternative.

There was no difference in substance between him and Ed, said the PM, as Chancellor George nodded in agreement and the other Ed, his shadow, sat uncharacteristically mute.

The normally voluble terraces were stunned by this outbreak of light over heat. They sat momentarily transfixed, rattles, vuvuzuelas and voices eerily silent.

But those who kept the faith knew it could not last and within minutes of peace breaking out it was abandoned in favour of normal service.

Ed, whose plan had worryingly won the support of today’s Daily Mail, accused Dave of being out of touch with public opinion. His friend of just seconds earlier "did not get it,” said the Labour leader.

Dave, his colour thankfully returned to its normal puce, said he wasn’t going to have any lessons in “getting it” from the party that had been in government for 13 years.

With both sides now in full throat, Speaker Bercow signalled the return of business as usual by calling on Tory MPs to “pipe down and be good boys”, thus further enamouring himself to the party to which he still officially belongs.

Meanwhile as scientists over in Westminster Hall continued to celebrate the discovery of their rarely seen sub-atomic particle it was perhaps fitting that MPs should loudly cheer the discovery in their own ranks of a similar being, Tory MP Nicholas Soames.

Rarely seen before lunch, and sometimes missing afterwards, the Member of Parliament for Mid Sussex delighted all by lumbering to his feet with a loyal question about the banks ignored in the pleasure of confirming the earlier fears expressed by the Deputy PM.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. Photo: Getty Images

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

Photo: Getty
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Rising crime and fewer police show the most damaging impacts of austerity

We need to protect those who protect us.

Today’s revelation that police-recorded crime has risen by 10 per cent across England and Wales shows one of the most damaging impacts of austerity. Behind the cold figures are countless stories of personal misery; 723 homicides, 466,018 crimes with violence resulting in injury, and 205,869 domestic burglaries to take just a few examples.

It is crucial that politicians of all parties seek to address this rising level of violence and offer solutions to halt the increase in violent crime. I challenge any Tory to defend the idea that their constituents are best served by a continued squeeze on police budgets, when the number of officers is already at the lowest level for more than 30 years.

This week saw the launch Chris Bryant's Protect The Protectors Private Member’s Bill, which aims to secure greater protections for emergency service workers. It carries on where my attempts in the last parliament left off, and could not come at a more important time. Cuts to the number of police officers on our streets have not only left our communities less safe, but officers themselves are now more vulnerable as well.

As an MP I work closely with the local neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency of Halifax. There is some outstanding work going on to address the underlying causes of crime, to tackle antisocial behaviour, and to build trust and engagement across communities. I am always amazed that neighbourhood police officers seem to know the name of every kid in their patch. However cuts to West Yorkshire Police, which have totalled more than £160m since 2010, have meant that the number of neighbourhood officers in my district has been cut by half in the last year, as the budget squeeze continues and more resources are drawn into counter-terrorism and other specialisms .

Overall, West Yorkshire Police have seen a loss of around 1,200 officers. West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart is clear about the result: "To say it’s had no effect on frontline policing is just a nonsense.” Yet for years the Conservatives have argued just this, with the Prime Minister recently telling MPs that crime was at a record low, and ministers frequently arguing that the changing nature of crime means that the number of officers is a poor measure of police effectiveness. These figures today completely debunk that myth.

Constituents are also increasingly coming to me with concerns that crimes are not investigated once they are reported. Where the police simply do not have the resources to follow-up and attend or investigate crimes, communities lose faith and the criminals grow in confidence.

A frequently overlooked part of this discussion is that the demands on police have increased hugely, often in some unexpected ways. A clear example of this is that cuts in our mental health services have resulted in police officers having to deal with mental health issues in the custody suite. While on shift with the police last year, I saw how an average night included a series of people detained under the Mental Health Act. Due to a lack of specialist beds, vulnerable patients were held in a police cell, or even in the back of a police car, for their own safety. We should all be concerned that the police are becoming a catch-all for the state’s failures.

While the politically charged campaign to restore police numbers is ongoing, Protect The Protectors is seeking to build cross-party support for measures that would offer greater protections to officers immediately. In February, the Police Federation of England and Wales released the results of its latest welfare survey data which suggest that there were more than two million unarmed physical assaults on officers over a 12-month period, and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon.

This is partly due to an increase in single crewing, which sees officers sent out on their own into often hostile circumstances. Morale in the police has suffered hugely in recent years and almost every front-line officer will be able to recall a time when they were recently assaulted.

If we want to tackle this undeniable rise in violent crime, then a large part of the solution is protecting those who protect us; strengthening the law to keep them from harm where possible, restoring morale by removing the pay cap, and most importantly, increasing their numbers.

Holly Lynch is the MP for Halifax. The Protect the Protectors bill will get its second reading on the Friday 20th October. 

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