PMQs sketch: For Miliband it wasn't as easy as ABC

It sounded as if Ed M's summer nose job had finally kicked in, but it turned out to be just a heavy

It was when a Tory MP suggested that parents should take their children to work during next week's public sector strike that you realised Prime Minister's Questions was just a try-out for the real thing.

There they sat fidgeting, staring off into space, whispering to their pals, ties askew, waiting for the lunch bell, and that was just the Government side of the House. Opposite, equally unruly and even noisier -- as befits their rather ruder upbringing -- the boys and girls from the local comp.

It was meant to be a different day when deep economic matters would be discussed in the run-up to next week's Autumn Statement by the Chancellor, when he will reveal that we are up to our necks in it -- but luckier than the others who are busy swallowing the stuff.

Indeed George was there, chewing on his lip, braced for the inevitable spanking from Labour for his part in the ongoing drama. Just to add to the excitement we had learned earlier in the day that "We-are-all-in-this-together" Dave had just forked out £140,000 to buy a field next to his constituency home without needing any help from his bank manager. What an added bonus for Ed M, who had started off his day by being awarded the phrase of the year prize for inventing "squeezed middle". Surely this was going to be his day.

PMQs kicked off with an early moan from a member of the Government side about next week's strike in what observers thought was just a way of giving Tory MPs a chance to clear their throats before the session started in earnest.

Labour spirits lifted when Ed stood up and launched into his attack on the Government's jobs record. Dave had managed in 18 months what Labour never did in 13 years; push youth unemployment over 1m. As he spoke, he sounded as if his summer nose job had finally kicked, in but as he continued it appeared that it was just a bad cold.

He tried to pin down Dave but even the constant encouragement of Ed B, forever barracking from the sidelines, seemed unable to provide the energy necessary to get a grip on the PM, already a past master in ducking and diving.

Ed threw in his sound bite with the charge that Dave never takes the blame. ABC -- Anyone But Cameron -- he said, but you wondered if his heart was in it. His enthusiasm cannot have been helped by the poll revelation that 18 months on more people still blame Labour than the Coalition for our economic woes.

He tried to hit Dave with another demand for a bankers' bonus tax, this time to help the young unemployed. But the PM swatted him off with a list of nine uses he said Labour had already ear-marked the tax for. "This is a bank tax that likes to say yes", said the PM with all the pleasure of delivering a well-rehearsed line.

Three Tory MPs managed independently -- and no doubt without conferring -- to ask the PM to explain just how wrong, selfish, undemocratic and unrepresentative next week's strike would be. Dave could not agree more, and yes, he does agree with MP Louise Mensch that people should take their kids to work if schools are closed by strikes next week.

When not an MP, Mrs Mensch is a writer of fiction.

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

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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