Opinion by Michael Fabricant MP.
IN SEARCH OF A STRAIGHT ANSWER
Last week I was rebuked by Mr Speaker for shouting at the Prime Minister in the House of Commons (as were a number of others).
"One doesn’t normally shout at someone answering a question across a room in one’s home" someone in Lichfield pointed out to me. Well, that’s true. But you don’t normally have the sort of conversation at home that goes: "Darling, did you remember to buy the Cumberland sausages we were going to have for lunch?" Answer: "The state of British farming has continued to improve and I will to do all I can to ensure this continues under my watch." Question: "But I didn’t ask that. I just want to know, am I going to have my favourite sausages for lunch? If you didn’t buy them, I will go out now and get some".
Answer: "I have already made the position clear. Farming will not improve if you ever have your say on this and that is all there is to say on this subject."
And that is why you will often hear screamed across the floor of the House of Commons in sheer frustration: "Just answer the bloody question for once!"
A good example was last Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Question Time. David Cameron asked: "Will the Prime Minister confirm that his plans will double the national debt?"
Gordon Brown answered at length beginning: "The national debt will be lower as a percentage of national income than in France, Germany, Italy, and Japan. We are going to give real help to families and businesses now." Cameron persisted: "The Government’s pre budget report says that last year the national debt was ?527 billion. In five years’ time, it will be ?1.1 trillion. It’s a simple question but let me repeat it: does he admit that his plans will double the national debt?"
Brown answered: "We published the figures and they make it absolutely clear that national debt in Britain will rise to 58 per cent"
So David Cameron gave up and asked instead:" Will the Prime Minister confirm that 58 per cent is exactly the same percentage as that reached when Denis Healey went to the International Monetary Fund because the country was bust?" The PM responded: "The right honourable gentleman does not seem to understand that around the world – " At that point he was interrupted by cries of "Just answer the bloody question!"
The House of Commons can be a very frustrating place at times. Meanwhile, unlike the Commons’ Chamber, there is a place you can get a straight answer. The House of Commons Library is an important and unbiased research institution which provides general and bespoke research information to MPs.
Some months ago, I asked the library a relatively simple question: While Tony Blair was Prime Minister and Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer, how many times did they say in the House of Commons Chamber – ‘No return to boom and bust’? The answer is 216.
This begs the further question: Did they actually believe what they were saying or were they setting out to deceive the public? Whatever the answer, they acted as if it were the former. They made the worst mistake of any politician: they believed their own rhetoric.
Australia has been able to offer tax cuts to help boost its economy and support small businesses. Those cuts are funded out of budget surpluses. Australia used the boom years to save. We spent it all. Instead we are borrowing billions to help fund a temporary 2.5 per cent cut in VAT while National Insurance is scheduled to rise. And most believe the VAT reduction will make little difference.
It certainly didn’t save Woolworths.