Friday, 12 July 2013

Vince Cable: a model statement and answers

Whatever one may think of the policies for Royal Mail and the Post Office (and the decision to split the two and commercialise them was taken long before the current government), Vince Cable's statement to the House last Wednesday was to the point. Beyond reminding MPs that Peter Mandelson had tried and failed to privatise Royal Mail when Labour was in power, it was also devoid of party political point-scoring. His answers to questions were equally pithy and his tone towards the CWU (which is the main union organising in the Royal Mail) diplomatic.

One of Vince's longest answers was significant:

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Some 20 years ago, as Post Office Minister, I tried to privatise Royal Mail. We could not get it through because of Labour intransigence. Labour Members were wrong then and they are wrong now. Has not the only result of the delay been a lack of investment and an inability on the part of this publicly owned corporation to respond to international and technological challenges?
Vince Cable: I know that it is tempting to blame the Labour party for a lot of things, but I seem to remember that the attempted privatisation under the hon. Gentleman’s stewardship ground to a halt because Mrs Thatcher was against it. We have moved on and circumstances are different. Indeed, this is a substantial commitment to making a real success of what the Prime Minister called a very important public service.
Speaker Bercow was moved to comment at the end of the Statement:
Mr Speaker: We are grateful to the Secretary of State and to colleagues. Fifty-two Back Benchers questioned him in 38 minutes of Back-Bench time. If other Ministers were as brief in responding, we would get everybody in every time.
The Statement came immediately after a rowdy Prime Minister's Questions at which David Cameron dragged in repeated attacks on trade union links with the Labour Party, whether related to the question or not. The Speaker clearly lost his patience at one point, cutting off such a tirade:

Q6. [164133] Mr Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West) (Lab): Is the Prime Minister aware that there is widespread agreement in this House about the importance of investment in infrastructure and indeed widespread agreements about its job-creating potential? Can he therefore tell us why, after three years in office, employment in the construction sector has fallen by 84,000 people?
The Prime Minister: Employment in construction is currently rising, and the recent news on construction has been very good. That is because we have an infrastructure plan, a fifth of the projects are under way and we have road building at far higher levels than it ever was under the Labour Government. Whereas Labour electrified literally five miles of railway line, we are going to electrify hundreds of miles of railway line. I note that the hon. Gentleman does not mention the fact that he has been paying rent to Unite in his constituency. Normally, it is money from Unite to Labour; in this case, it is from— 

Mr Speaker: Order. I call Mr Rees-Mogg.

I am very much on Mr Bercow's side, as I trust are most followers of Hansard and those tuning in to BBC-Parliament hoping to engage with reasoned debate. However, his conduct is increasingly being seen as a betrayal, an attack on his former Conservative friends and there is already at least one "oust Bercow" club on the government benches. One trusts that the whole House will resist such moves.

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