It is just like waiting for a bus. You wait for ages for a Tory MP to do or say something that expresses decency and then two come along at once.
Yesterday, Tory Health Minister Daniel Poulter twice accused Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham of ‘misleading the house’ over claims – which are quite true – that Accident & Emergency waiting times are lengthening drastically under this government and that more people than in years are having to wait more than 4 hours for treatment.
Dr Poulter was slapped down by the Speaker, John Bercow, for offering a ‘non-withdrawal withdrawal’, and had to apologise to the Speaker and to the House. All too typical of this government to distort facts and even blatantly lie, and then to try to accuse others of doing so. Mr Poulter has ‘form‘ in this respect. It’s all pretty nauseating.
But I watched a little further into the video of the debate and got an unexpectedly pleasant surprise. Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that one of my pet hates (and I really do hate it) is the common practice of backbench MPs standing up and wasting time during PMQs and other ministerial question sessions with ‘tee-up’ questions along the line of,
Will the Prime Minister agree with me that we are generally wonderful when it comes to [issue X] and that we are all deserving of a hearty slap on the back because we’re just so generally delightful?
To which, of course, the Prime Minister or other minister will give his/her wholehearted agreement before saying that this general wonderfulness shows just how un-wonderful ‘the party opposite’ is. It happens several times during any PMQs, and it drives me so crazy that I’d happily make it a criminal offence and bring back hanging for it.
It’s very rare – except on the issue of the European Union – for Tory backbenchers ever to ask a serious, challenging question of one of their ministers. However, we have an exception.
If you watch the video on the article linked in the 2nd paragraph and scroll to the 12m40s mark, you’ll see Tory MP for Brigg & Goole, Andrew Percy, ask an extremely pointed question of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt during a discussion of the planned closure of a children’s heart surgery unit in Leeds. Hunt had claimed that the decision was clinically led and (as part of the general discussion) an indication of the government’s general wonderfulness in allowing clinicians to make decisions on what’s best without undue government interference.
Mr Percy said:
170 clinicians from across Yorks & N Lincs have written to express their dismay at this decision, stating that the decision, in terms of time-critical transfers, exposes a number of children to the risk of death, largely because it requires transfers to Newcastle… Does this not prove that, not only does this not enjoy clinical support in Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire, but the suggestion that this has been a clinically-led review is simply not the case?
In Parliamentary terms, this is extremely direct – tantamount to accusing Hunt of lying, although for reasons of etiquette the word ‘lying’ itself is almost never used.
Hunt’s response was the typical mealy-mouthed bollocks about ‘very complex issues’, and he ‘assured’ Mr Percy that his final decision would be clinically-led – which, sadly, almost certainly means that the Leeds unit is doomed.
But that shouldn’t detract from recognising the fact that a Tory MP asked his Secretary of State a good, probing question about an issue which clearly means a lot to him – a question that no doubt has Jeremy ‘Wormtongue’ Hunt marking his card in terms of any future promotion prospects.
I have no idea (yet) about Mr Percy’s stance on other matters, and as usual I can’t escape the question of why he’s in a party that doesn’t care about the vulnerable, but I salute him for being bold enough to buck the trend and ask a real and challenging question in the interests of those he’s supposed to be looking after, even if his front bench doesn’t welcome it.