More economic good news last week seemed a gift to David Cameron ahead of his first Prime Minister’s Questions appearance in six weeks on Wednesday.
The service sector is growing so healthily that analysts, perhaps inspired by the rare sunshine in Westminster, were talking about an economic “springtime”.
In the event it took Cameron 28 minutes to mention it that is, he squeezed it in just before the half hour was up.
It’s not like he had much else to talk about. He taunted Ed Miliband for doing a U-turn in dropping his opposition to cuts in child benefit. Mocking someone for agreeing with you doesn’t seem awfully clever.
And the PM provided further evidence he was out of practice with his off-the-cuff joke that Labour had performed “so many U-turns they should be having a grand prix”, which doesn’t actually make any sense. And, given Cameron likes to go on about how the UK is locked in a “global race”, it’s worrying that he doesn’t seem able to tell the difference between a race and a roundabout.
Worse, within hours the Government performed an about-turn of its own in scrapping new rules on the ratio of teachers to children in nurseries in the face of Lib Dem opposition. The Lib Dems are perhaps the only party who really grasp what a big issue childcare is to working parents and, therefore, how vital it could be at the next election. For all the talk of the new policy providing choice to parents and nurseries, one thing stood out research suggests changing the ratios can be detrimental to children’s safety and the Lib Dem leader knows that’s more important than ideology or the economy.
The PM may be in the driving seat but Nick Clegg had pulled the handbrake. Apparently cars are the main cause of death of badgers in the UK this was one of many interesting facts that emerged in the debate that followed PMQs. Others included the news that badgers can swim rivers and that Irish badgers are fatter than British badgers.
Labour got to choose the topics for the afternoon’s discussion and went with the A&E crisis engulfing the NHS in England, which is worthy and important, and badgers, which they’d picked surely just to wind up Environment Secretary Owen Paterson.
To be fair to Labour, it’s an issue that strikes a chord with the public. Brian May of rock band Queen was moved to write a song in their defence sample lyric: “Badger, badger, badger, badger.” Seriously.
Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy tweeted beforehand that he’d been inundated with emails about badgers, yet had received not a single message about the fate of humans in Syria.
Paterson, nicknamed O-Patz in homage to his film star namesake Robert “R-Patz” Pattinson, famously stormed out of a previous debate on the subject muttering: “I’ve had enough of this.” But he seemed less perturbed on this occasion despite opposite number Mary Creagh’s talk of perturbation (it’s something to do with badgers moving from one area to another) and super-excreters. Labour is against the idea of a badger cull. O-Patz despite once being the owner of pet badgers Baz and Bessie is, according to one Labour backbencher, “desperate to turn loose the shooters”.
In fact, Creagh claimed that so much ammunition is about to be unleashed against badgers that tourists will steer clear of the countryside through the summer to avoid the constant sound of gunfire. Is this a cull or an all-out war on badgers Paterson is planning? According to Labour’s Geraint Davies, it’s worse than that he claimed the policy amounts to genocide and he raised the prospect of refugee badgers fleeing over the border to Wales.
Yes, people really say this stuff in parliament.