PMQs on 15th January was a calmer affair than the ones we saw last year. The House is coming to terms with the Election result and a government with the sort of majority that hasn’t been seen since Labour lost in 2010.
Here are seven things we learned from PMQs:
This time Jeremy Corbyn chose the NHS as his subject. This is as close to home turf as Labour can get so he had the opportunity to highlight the rise in waiting times both at Accident & Emergency and for long term cancer treatment.
Boris acknowledged that the times were unacceptable and gave reassurances about the government’s investment plans including the construction of new hospitals.
Corbyn spoiled the attack by referring the Prime Minister to Labour’s election manifesto – which of course gave Boris the obvious reply that the voters had read and rejected Labour’s offer just a month ago.
Ian Blackford went in harder on Scottish independence than he did last week, demanding another referendum and referring to the Prime Minister as a ‘Democracy Denier’.
Boris responded by quoting previous SNP leaders who had stated that the 2014 referendum was a ‘once in a generation vote’ and he told Blackford to ‘change the record’. I suspect we will be hearing the same tune from the SNP for months to come.
The Conservative MPs for the Cotswolds and Arundel both asked about the roll out of broadband to rural areas.
Boris took the opportunity to state that £5 billion was being spent and that the roll out would be completed by 2025.
CCHQ followed up with a press statement, suggesting that this exchange was pre planned by the whips.
Sir Desmond Swaine asked about the constitutional balance between the Legislators, the Executive and the Judiciary. Unusually, this question was on the order paper in full rather than a supplementary to a more anodyne diary question – something that they wanted on the record.
Boris replied that he was planning a Commission to review the relationship and that whilst they would protect Judicial Review, they would also aim to prevent people using it as ‘politics by other means’.
The Brexit episode shone a powerful light on the way that the courts interpret and develop Law without much in the way of democratic engagement. Judicial activism has been a problem for some time and it is good to see the government seeking to reign it in.
As 31st January looms, MPs are asking about the opportunities raised by Leaving as well as its consequences. Andrew Rosindell urged the PM to improve animal welfare laws and to ban the live export of farm animals.
Helen Grant drew attention to the UK Africa Investment Summit on 20th January, which will encourage trade outside the EU.
The SNP’s Douglas Chapman mourned the loss of the Erasmus educational exchange scheme but Boris reassured him that Erasmus would still be available in some form after the UK leaves.
This question time saw Boris in the conciliatory mood that we all recognise from our City Hall days.
Asked by Ed Davey to review the decision to reduce payments to bereaved families to 18 months, the PM offered a meeting and constructive dialogue. He was equally positive to several other MPs who raised campaign initiatives. It reminded me of the old Peoples Question Times that City Hall hosted, where people presented many problems to Mayor Boris and he offered them his support and often met them personally afterwards. It is a very different approach to many politicians – and quite refreshing.
Sir David Amess asked about city status for his constituency – Southend On Sea.
Boris replied that ‘citification’ was ongoing…
I’m available to give briefings on the new government, Prime Minister and coming London Elections so contact me for details.