My sister and her husband came to Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) today. Given that I only get four allocated tickets for guests for PMQs per year – and these were my first personal guests – and the allocated days were given back in May – we got lucky! This was Michael Howard’s swan song – and it was pure theatre. Personally, whilst huge fun on occasion – PMQs is the most unedifying of political boys stuff you can get with all the shouting, barracking and point-scoring that goes on.
Put excellently by my colleague Jo Swinson, the youngest MP in the House at 25, who had Question 3 on the order paper. (‘Order paper’ – another piece of Parliamentary jargon; think of it like a detailed agenda for the day, listening all the business to be done). Jo’s question was:
“As the Prime Minister was saying goodbye to the fourth Tory Leader, is it not also time to say goodbye to the yah-boo style of Prime Minister’s Questions?”
Tony Blair had clearly been briefed on anything local to Jo’s constituency that she might ask as a supplementary question. (Your first question gets printed in advance, but normal MPs then get one supplementary –Michael Howard gets more – the contents of which Tony Blair doesn’t get advanced notice of) . He had clearly been briefed on all the national issues that might arise. But he clearly was left briefless – if you know what I mean – by Jo’s very clever and very direct questions.
“Yes” said the Prime Minister!
In the afternoon, as a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, I was questioning the Government about instituting good practise in terms of commissioning by the Government – green commissioning. What a wet duo came. If our green credentials rest on this lot – we are doomed. The planet has had it. Lack of enthusiasm for their chosen subject would be an understatement. I was truly gob-smacked by their lacklustre performance and seeming disinterest in the whole subject.
Thankfully, the Minister for such matters, followed on as the next ‘witness’. Whilst making virtually no progress (or snail-like progress if you prefer) at least he was enthusiastic and knew his stuff.
After close of play at Westminster I rush back to Hornsey & Wood Green for the Police Consultative Committee at the Civic Centre. The new local Commander, Simon O’Brian is there and gives his first vision for his time in charge of policing in our borough of Haringey. He knows the borough – which in my view is a great advantage. The thing I could never understand when I was on the Met Police Authority was the chess game the higher-ups played with borough commanders. The Met in its wisdom seems to rate Borough Commander as virtually a short-term job – moving commanders on every couple of years. Whereas to me, knowledge is not only power – but the only way to get the intelligence on who and how things happen, I think it should be five years minimum in post for borough commanders and rate the pay of the more senior officers. This post is the one that makes the real difference to all of us mortals scuttling around trying not to get mugged.
I asked him how he proposed to take the ‘debate’ that Ian Blair (Met Commissioner) says he wants to have with the public over policing forward. I am not sure the methodology is in place – and quite frankly – what local people still want is someone local to answer the phone when they call in about a non-urgent issue. Not an answer-phone when no one ever phones back – but a real human being who knows the area. And they want the police to come when they call. And we all want to see police on the beat (getting better!). It’s not rocket science.