Today’s Work and Pensions Questions was taken almost exclusively by Esther McVey – to the extent that when Steve Webb finally got the chance to answer a question, he joked that he had started to ‘feel unemployed’ while waiting for his big moment. Even Iain Duncan Smith only got one good stint at the despatch box, when Rachel Reeves asked him about the progress of Universal Credit. But the rest of the session was McVey Question Time.
Tory MPs are naturally in a tribal mood at the moment, and so all most of them want to talk about was the jobs fairs they’re all holding in their constituencies. ‘I organised a jobs fair’ has become the second most important phrase for a Tory MP to use after ‘long-term economic plan’, with bonus points for an MP who asks a question about their jobs fair that enables a ministerial answer involving the words ‘long-term economic plan’, as Philip Davies managed to do today. McVey played along, but had so many questions to answer that at one point she ended up on the wrong page in her notes, and muttered ‘Oops-a-daisy!’ as she hurriedly flicked to the right section.
The minister’s notes have become particularly important of late, as she has taken to offering a potted life history of certain backbenchers who ask questions, such as ‘my right honourable friend was born in a cardboard box, pulled himself up by his bootstraps, founded his own business and now organises jobs fairs as part of our long-term economic plan, so he knows about the value of hard work!’ Today it was Margot James’s turn. She asked about the Enterprise Allowance, and said this support had been ‘essential to the thriving business environment’. McVey replied:
‘My honourable friend is right.