Political sketch: The perks of being PM

Referendum guns are out.


One of the perks of being Prime Minister is when you address the House of Commons you always have your back to your own side, providing the perfect answer to those who say you can only tell the truth when it stares you in the eye.

Thus in theory only Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is really able to see just how shifty you are - unless of course you speak.

And this was the mistake that David Cameron made, not for the first time, as he turned up in the chamber to answer charges of confusion and obfuscation over his position on Europe and referenda.

If there is one thing that those members of the Tory Party, who need written permission from their doctors to be out on the streets, hate even more than the Lib-Dems and John Bercow it is Europe - or at least those bits that don’t involve skiing and the French Riviera.

So extra pills were ordered and taken when they heard this weekend that Dave had at last said he was in favour of a referendum.

His conversion bore no relation of course to the plan by former Defence Secretary Liam Fox, who qualifies in both the doctors' and recidivist camps to trundle out his referendum guns today.

But as befits a Tory Party in chaos ever since Chancellor George produced the budget-from-hell, more chaos was just around the corner.

Even as the faithful were reading the good news in their Sunday papers Foreign Secretary William Hague was being trundled out himself to say Dave had not meant it.

And so the scene was set for the perfect appearance by Dave in front of a less than happy government party and a delighted opposition.

Missing in action yet again was the back end of the coalition horse, deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who has taken to displaying his increasing contempt at being treated increasingly with contempt by not turning up.

Earlier he had made it clear that once again unwarned about Dave’s latest attempt for party popularity, he believed the issue (if not himself) irrelevant at the moment.

And so it was a Nick-less Dave who stood to clear the confusion and announced that this was no time for a referendum.

Just to make it quite clear there might be a time - some other time but not this time - and then he moved on to the bankers.

An hour of excruciation followed as Dave equivocated his way through the minefield of his own members egged on by Labour, delighted at another afternoon of car-crash politics.

Ed Miliband had kicked off the sport by accusing the PM of a long-standing position on renegotiation; long standing because it's not getting anywhere.

Dave sweated on, his head looking increasingly big for his hair, as Tory after Tory asked him the one question he could not answer: when?

He had planned to escape after an hour when George would take his place in the dock over Barclays but that took no account of the master of ceremonies at the event, Speaker Bercow. 

He mercilessly let the session run an extra 25 minutes. And it's PMQs again on Wednesday.

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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The government needs more on airports than just Chris Grayling's hunch

This disastrous plan to expand Heathrow will fail, vows Tom Brake. 

I ought to stop being surprised by Theresa May’s decision making. After all, in her short time as Prime Minister she has made a series of terrible decisions. First, we had Chief Buffoon, Boris Johnson appointed as Foreign Secretary to represent the United Kingdom around the world. Then May, announced full steam ahead with the most extreme version of Brexit, causing mass economic uncertainty before we’ve even begun negotiations with the EU. And now we have the announcement that expansion of Heathrow Airport, in the form of a third runway, will go ahead: a colossally expensive, environmentally disastrous, and ill-advised decision.

In the House of Commons on Tuesday, I asked Transport Secretary Chris Grayling why the government is “disregarding widespread hostility and bulldozing through a third runway, which will inflict crippling noise, significant climate change effects, health-damaging air pollution and catastrophic congestion on a million Londoners.” His response was nothing more than “because we don’t believe it’s going to do those things.”

I find this astonishing. It appears that the government is proceeding with a multi-billion pound project with Grayling’s beliefs as evidence. Why does the government believe that a country of our size should focus on one major airport in an already overcrowded South East? Germany has multiple major airports, Spain three, the French, Italians, and Japanese have at least two. And I find it astonishing that the government is paying such little heed to our legal and moral environmental obligations.

One of my first acts as an MP nineteen years ago was to set out the Liberal Democrat opposition to the expansion of Heathrow or any airport in southeast England. The United Kingdom has a huge imbalance between the London and the South East, and the rest of the country. This imbalance is a serious issue which our government must get to work remedying. Unfortunately, the expansion of Heathrow does just the opposite - it further concentrates government spending and private investment on this overcrowded corner of the country.

Transport for London estimates that to make the necessary upgrades to transport links around Heathrow will be £10-£20 billion pounds. Heathrow airport is reportedly willing to pay only £1billion of those costs. Without upgrades to the Tube and rail links, the impact on London’s already clogged roads will be substantial. Any diversion of investment from improving TfL’s wider network to lines serving Heathrow would be catastrophic for the capital. And it will not be welcomed by Londoners who already face a daily ordeal of crowded tubes and traffic-delayed buses. In the unlikely event that the government agrees to fund this shortfall, this would be salt in the wound for the South-West, the North, and other parts of the country already deprived of funding for improved rail and road links.

Increased congestion in the capital will not only raise the collective blood pressure of Londoners, but will have severe detrimental effects on our already dire levels of air pollution. During each of the last ten years, air pollution levels have been breached at multiple sites around Heathrow. While a large proportion of this air pollution is caused by surface transport serving Heathrow, a third more planes arriving and departing adds yet more particulates to the air. Even without expansion, it is imperative that we work out how to clean this toxic air. Barrelling ahead without doing so is irresponsible, doing nothing but harm our planet and shorten the lives of those living in west London.

We need an innovative, forward-looking strategy. We need to make transferring to a train to Cardiff after a flight from Dubai as straightforward and simple as transferring to another flight is now. We need to invest in better rail links so travelling by train to the centre of Glasgow or Edinburgh is quicker than flying. Expanding Heathrow means missing our climate change targets is a certainty; it makes life a misery for those who live around the airport and it diverts precious Government spending from other more worthy projects.

The Prime Minister would be wise to heed her own advice to the 2008 government and “recognise widespread hostility to Heathrow expansion.” The decision to build a third runway at Heathrow is the wrong one and if she refuses to U-turn she will soon discover the true extent of the opposition to these plans.

Tom Brake is the Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton & Wallington.