If there’s a problem in Birmingham it’s too gnarled and subtle for PMQs. Easy sling-shots and grabby sloganising are all that’s required. Ed Miliband had found a simple point of entry to the issue. Buck-passing. Who, he asked, is responsible for monitoring schools that incubate extremism?
The answer is fivefold, said the PM. Head teachers, school governors, local authorities, Ofsted and ultimately Whitehall. Which is plenty. But not for Ed. He wants to recruit a whole new tranche of liberal storm-troopers, on 24-hour stand-by, ready to swoop on rogue schools and airlift extremist teachers out of the class-room. ‘A proper system of local oversight’ was how he described this task-force. Which is good news if you happen to be a teacher disillusioned with teaching. Any new inspectorate is bound to be crammed with school-averse pedagogues in search of a fresh career. That’s how Ofsted works.
Cameron wasn’t convinced by the case for yet more mullah monitors. He said Ofsted’s policy of paying visits without prior notice would offer a swift and flexible solution. Really? These ‘no notice’ visits have proved pretty hopeless so far. Ofsted visits and the school takes ‘no notice.’
Miliband moved to the happier ground of the Home Office. All winter the Labour leader has prayed for a flu epidemic and a cull of thousands of pensions. But it never materialised. Summer is here and the gods have finally delivered a proper crisis: a passport famine. Delays and hold-ups in the franking office have already caused many thousands of Brits to cancel their flights and to miss their spell of summer wanderlust.
This, of course, must make life unusually tranquil for those in tourist hotspots overseas. Hotel pool-sides are bereft of their yelling hordes of crimson-jowled lager louts. Restaurant floors are free of blood stains and trodden glass. The dusty gutters boast no broken-skulled British brawlers. The riot police stand idle in the city squares while the regular cops peer in vain for the sight of Dagenham hen-parties shrieking and vomiting on the sticky pavements.
Ed seems to finds this deeply worrying. He called on Cameron to end the outbreak of peace in the world’s holiday destinations. Cameron – ‘not me guv’ – blamed the 300,000 extra citizens who are so thrilled by the recovery that they want to skip the country. He added that he’d shoved an extra 250 passport-stampers into the front-line. In truth, its the strong pound and the surging economy that have boosted the holiday trade. But Cameron can hardly claim credit for causing a mass exodus.
The backbenchers were up to their usual tricks. Quite a few Tory shiresmen announced that ‘job fairs’ organised on their orders had proved a huge success. The point of these newish initiatives is to ensure that talented locals can secure well-paid work (which generally means the MP himself who uses PMQs to grovel to his electors and bid for their future loyalty).
Labour’s die-hard miserablisers were out in force as well. In Scotland we heard that loan sharks are biting chunks out of local communities. A couple of Geordie MPs declared that rising poverty was winning the war on wealth. This was challenged by the member for Harrogate, not far from Geordieland, who revealed that youth unemployment on his patch had fallen to just 50 souls.
‘Still too many,’ shouted Cameron.