Wednesday, March 19, 2014

PMQs and The Budget - Wot About Eton?


Eric Pickles had started to go even before Chancellor George stood up, and as he had already heard the budget, hearts sank.

To be fair to Eric - not a sentiment he offers to others - he had been promoted into the spot normally occupied by Ken Clarke.

Regular readers will know that Ken often pops into Parliament around this time of day for a little nap before lunch.

Wednesday's are good because he can have a guaranteed half an hour of dozing through Prime Minister's Questions.
But, with today's session elongated by the addition of George's budget revelations, Ken had fled the Chamber for the upholstered safety of the visitors gallery. 

Budget Day is one of those rare times when the chaos and confusion regularly found in the House of Commons is actually planned. Traditionally speakers in debates square up to their opposite numbers to hurl insults and selective information at each other before retiring for a vote based wholly on prejudice.

At PMQs, the vote is dispensed with and the PM and the Leader of the Opposition spent a happy half hour in mutual contempt.

But, come Budget Day, the rules are changed, the Prime Minister becomes the warm up man, the Chancellor gets the lead role and the Opposition leader gets to be out of his depth.

Luckily for Labour - and for George - everyone who is anyone on their side is called Ed so they just swop one for the other.

The Prime Minister might be First Lord of the Treasury and Ed Balls, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, but just to confuse any foreigners watching, come Budget Day they are
ignored.

Instead George gets to detail his plans for the next year and Ed Miliband gets the right to rubbish them, never having seen them before. 

George was up early for the fray, caught clutching his red lunch box in Downing Street with Danny Alexander guarding the sandwiches. A chauffeur-driven was laid on to take all three the fan-threatened 250 metres to the Commons followed all the way by a BBC helicopter obviously on its way to a story.

As he made his way into the Chamber it was clear that he had pressed the pale-please button on his last visit to the sun bed.
This put him immediately at odds with his leader Dave, who now tops up his tan with regular visits to countries other than his own.

With the added pleasure of knowing he wasn't the main course on today's menu, Dave knew he would be out for a late lunchtime livener.

PMQs still had to be got through but, neither he nor Ed M wanted to waste much energy and fingers were sheathed for the session.

The PM threw one final "unfit for office" at the Labour leader before happily handing over to his Chancellor.

With Eric now fighting and losing his battle with Morpheus, the cheers greeting George were a more than necessary wake-up call for the Communities Secretary.

But, as he came to, they were also a memory of similar cheers just two years ago as the Chancellor set out his ill-fated omni-shambles budget. And perhaps with pasties in mind he set out on today's journey clutching the sides of the
Despatch Box like a life preserver.
Say what you like about George - and an orderly queue waiting to do so can be found forming in most places - it didn't take long for his inner St Paul's to come out.

A blast of macro economics detailing tough times ahead and a series of figures ending in 
billions had his side slightly slack-jawed.

But, a penny off a pint, cheaper bingo, pothole subsidies and economic growth was what they had come to hear.

As the Eds scrabbled to keep up, George added in help for savers not even decently leaked in the run up to today's speech.

Ed M stood up, ignored everything George had said and asked about Eton. 

George went to St Paul's but this wasn't the day for facts.