Work and Pensions Questions in the Commons has long been a battle between the two main parties for the moral high ground, but today Esther McVey, who appeared even more energetic than usual, made that battle just a little bloodier. She scolded Sheila Gilmore for not smiling when she talked about more people in employment and then listed ‘all the good news that is happening’. Then she told Stephen Hepburn that he hadn’t read the figures on the labour market, joking that ‘the honourable gentleman spoke with gusto but that was all he spoke with’. She was quite keen on the word ‘gusto’, actually, praising Nigel Adams for asking a question ‘with such gusto’. And then Labour MP William Bain told her about a young man in his constituency who was desperate for work after being out of work for 18 months, and asked McVey what she had to say to this constituent. McVey went in for the kill. She bellowed:
‘Well I would like to have a word with the young chap that you’re talking about because what I’d like to give him is hope and optimism, something you’re distinctly not giving by running down – I apologise! [as MPs shouted ‘oooh!’], Mr Speaker, not your good self, but the honourable member from the opposition because what that young chap needs is hope, he needs optimism, he needs to know what is happening in the rest of the country because other people are getting jobs, youth unemployment has gone down, long-term youth unemployment has gone down and if he sticks with it, and gives it a go, he will get there in the end and that is the best news I can give him because it’s far better under this government than it was under the Labour government where youth unemployment went up by 45 per cent!’
[audioboo url=”https://audioboo.fm/boos/2034280-mcvey-young-people-need-hope-and-optimism”]McVey vs Bain[/audioboo]
This clearly had nothing to do with rumours circulating the Westminster Village that McVey could soon fly into the Cabinet.
In spite of the rising animosity in the Shadow Cabinet about Labour’s strategy, the party’s backbenchers are still bang on message, asking ministers repeatedly to adopt Labour’s compulsory jobs guarantee. But Conservative ministers are now even more aggressively on message, referring as often as they can to ‘our long-term economic plan’ and attacking Labour for failing to move disabled people back into work. There was some fury from the Opposition benches when Iain Duncan Smith made that claim, but he ploughed on. He and McVey are clearly keen to fight as aggressively as Labour on welfare.
P.S. Today’s session was quite energetic, but lobby journalists in the press gallery were still a little surprised to see a couple holding hands and nuzzling one another happily in the public gallery above the Chamber. Who knew DWP questions was the latest hot date in London?