This week is offering quite a lesson in how politicians answer difficult questions. Yesterday Philip Hammond said people like him didn’t ‘do’ yes-no questions, and today Patrick McLoughlin, the latest victim of the floods rota that sees a new minister trying to make sense of the whole thing each day, showed us how you can say ‘no’ to a question but using many, many more words. Asked on the Today programme whether David Cameron’s claim that ‘money is no object’ meant new money for transport infrastructure, McLoughlin said:
I think what you’ve got to look at is what we’re spending anyway. We’re about to embark on a new five year plan for Network Rail where we will be spending £38bn on the railway infrastructure over the next five years. Now that’s some very big and important projects that are going to increase capacity.’
In an earlier interview on ITV’s Daybreak, McLoughlin had said ‘I don’t think it’s a blank cheque’. But if money is no object then that means there is a blank cheque. Or was the Prime Minister exaggerating yesterday?
P.S. What the Prime Minister meant was that Britain could afford to look after its flood victims without raiding things like the aid budget. He wasn’t advocating some kind of wild Brown-esque spending spree. But the contrast between ‘money no object’ and ‘no blank cheque’ isn’t helpful.