Lloyd Evans

A day off for Dave

A day off for Dave
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The giraffe was back. Hattie Harman came to PMQs today wearing That Frock with its eccentric pattern of burnt umber pentagonals framed by light squiggly outlines. A great colour scheme for camouflaging giraffes in Africa. And an even better one for attracting attention in the house. Why does Hattie feel herself particularly giraffic? Her noble breeding naturally aligns her sympathies with an animal that has evolved upwards over many generations and can enjoy the lush topmost leaves not available to lowlier creatures. Or perhaps it’s her unsteady gait as she lumbers through her questions. Or perhaps it’s the fact that if she leans forwards and touches her knees with her chin she’ll fall over. In any case David Cameron saw a harmless vegetarian facing him across the despatch box. And he relaxed.

Hattie raised the issue of police commissioners and accused Dave of blowing £100m on a new form of elected top-cop. Cameron didn’t query her figures but declined her invitation to change his policy.

With budgets falling the police are in the spotlight. Everything they buy is being looked at, sometimes by inquisitive tax-payers in person. When we pass police stations we’re likely to marvel at the fleets of liveried Beamers and burnished Saabs idling in the car park. All that glorious coachwork, all that gleaming metallic perfection. But we wonder. We question their priorities. We worry that the cops might be tempted to let police-work prevent them from keeping these gorgeous carriages in show-room condition. But in Greater Manchester there’s no cause for concern. The Prime Minister revealed today that 106 hard-working Manchester bobbies are assigned exclusively to ‘vehicle maintenance.’ This great but crime-torn metropolis also has 200 burly officers grappling with computers. And a staggering 187 are engaged in HR, or personnel personnel. One wonders how many of these personnel personnel run the personnel part of the personnel department. Plenty, I hope. Don’t want to make any mistakes there.

Cameron had little difficulty dealing with Hattie today. Her pretence that Labour would have effected none of the coalition’s cuts was frankly hypocritical. David used his default tactic on Home Office funding and quoted an exchange between Andrew Neil and Alan Johnson. ‘Would police budgets would have fallen under Labour?’ Johnson: ‘Yes.’ The fact that Cameron twice directed answers at Johnson, rather than at Harman, proves how little he esteems her as an appointment. With Ed absent, this was a day off for Dave.

And he didn’t notice, or even care, when Hattie engaged in a spot of skilfully duplicitous stat-creep. Her auto-suggestive subtleties would have won praise from Darren Brown. In fact the swindle was so deftly executed that a part of me wants to believe Hattie blundered on it by accident. But let’s be generous. Let’s hail her qualities as a sorceress. Here’s what she did. First she planted a figure in our heads (20 percent). Then she related it to a large issue (police budgets). Finally she mentioned a smaller application of the issue (front-line cops). Having bashed these three elements into our bonces she executed the switcheroo. The figure was mentioned again (20 percent) but this time linked not to the large issue (budgets) but to the smaller application (front-line cops). Brilliant. She accused Cameron of proposing a 20 percent cut in front-line police numbers. He’s doing nothing of the sort, of course, but Hattie’s wizardry distracted us with puffs of smoke and swirling capes. Truly we were deceived. ‘No wonder his backbenches are so silent,’ she crowed. ‘He’s planning to cut the police by 20 percent!’

That aside, PMQs was lacklusture, themeless and pretty uninformative. Cameron used his final answer to whip his MPs into burst of irrelevant but heartening full-volume ululation. Asked by Hattie about his recently sacked ‘vanity photographer’, Cameron accused Labour of employing all kinds of wasteful parasites. ‘I’ll tell you who we wouldn’t employ. Special advisers to indulge in spin.’ Hurraaayyyyy! ‘Damien McBride to smear politicians and their wives.’ Hurraaayyyyy!! ‘Alistair Campbell to sex up dossiers and make the case for war.’ Hurraaayyyyy!!! The Speaker wanted to call a halt to this but Cameron had one more witch to duck. Referring to some forgotten Labour apparatchik he said, ‘Her only qualification, according to the Guardian, was that “she spoke fluent New Labour””’. Hurraaayyyyy!!!