Hazel has developed that Brownian knack of not going anywhere near the answer to questions. These are some exchanges between Hazel and The Eric Pickles from yesterday in the House of Commons. The Pickles asks:
"I wonder whether the Secretary of State has had time to look at the latest survey by the Local Government Association, which has branded 24-hour drinking a failure. The LGA survey warns that violence continues to blight the streets leaving taxpayers with a completely unacceptable £100 million bill. On top of that, local authorities have lost £43 million in licensing costs. Does the right hon. Lady believe that 24-hour drinking is a social experiment that has failed?"
"The hon. Gentleman will be very well aware that the number of 24-hour licences in this country is tiny. There has been a relaxation of licensing provisions so that people can now drink at different times. If he talks to the police, he will find that in his area, as in mine, they are pleased that we now have staggered closing times, and that we do not see the scenes on the streets that we used to see when people all came out of premises at the same time. We now have a better system for managing our night-time economy, which means the local authority, the police, trading standards and environmental services all working together on the issue. That is the practical approach, rather than an approach in which figures are plucked out of the air."
Can you decipher from that reply whether she has actually read the LGA report? Hard to say, isn't it. I also have absolutely no idea what "we now have a better system for managing our night-time economy" means, either. It's one of those phrases that sounds clever and important, but which doesn't actually mean anything.
The Pickles responds:
"It is fortunate that the Local Government Association talked to local police and trading standards. The overwhelming majority of health authorities and councils reported pressure on resources. The right hon. Lady cannot kid herself any longer: our towns are nightly turned into vomitoriums, with brawling and bad behaviour. In March 2004, she said that the reforms would create a “continental cafe-bar culture”. How did her dream of a nation at ease with itself, gently sipping chardonnay, turn into something more like chucking-out time in Deadwood?"
It's great that The Pickles is essentially pointing out that all the people Blears mentioned in her first reply are actually saying quite the opposite to what she stated.
"If the hon. Gentleman thinks that my dream is of people gently sipping chardonnay, perhaps he has not often been on a night out in Manchester, and perhaps he needs to go on one. I can tell him that a night out in Manchester is now a much more pleasant experience, because the police are active on the streets, the local authority has introduced a “best bar none” award in which bars are rewarded for managing their premises properly, and people can go out and thoroughly enjoy themselves in a safe environment. That is about making practical policies that work on the ground, with people working together. Local authorities’ trading standards departments have done an excellent job of cracking down on some of the off-licences and pubs that have been serving drink to under-age youngsters. We need to tackle those kinds of problems, while allowing the vast majority of people who go out, have a drink and enjoy themselves to do just that."
The phrase repeat ad nauseam comes to mind. This is the same answer to the first question, albeit with a few bits of alteration round the edge. I also hate the way Blears manages to get her region into so many of her answers; it's something she does a lot. Her answer to just about everything is often "Well, the Honourable Member should go to Manchester, Salford or anywhere else near my constituency which I pretend to like." Also, why the heck should The Pickles cart himself up to Manchester just because Blears wants him to?