Sunday, 18 July 2010

Pipsqueak insult may damage ministers' reputations

Emily Rosengreen has been looking into the recent parliamentary row over the cancelled school building programmes.

Emily Rosengreen
The FET, Sunday 18th July
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Ministers fear that Tom Watson’s attack upon Michael Gove in the House of Commons could cause significant harm to parliament’s already damaged reputation.

Tempers were raised in the Commons when Watson, the Labour MP for West Bromwich East, voiced his outrage concerning Gove’s handling of a list about school building programmes. His use of the word “pipsqueak” has attracted rebuke for threatening the public image of politicians.

The list in question detailed which building projects would continue and which would be terminated. Gove, the Conservative Education Secretary, has been accused of irresponsibility for the manner in which the list was made public. Furthermore, the list contained twenty-five errors, misinforming some schools about the status of their building programmes.

Following an apology made by Gove in the House of Commons, Watson called him a “miserable pipsqueak” and accused him of having “cynically raised the hopes” of people affected by the errors.

David Miliband, the frontrunner for the Labour Party leadership, has called the incident a “travesty” and insisted that Watson’s insult did not reflect upon the Labour Party as a whole.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Miliband insisted that word choice is important, and that if Watson was going to use insulting language he should “try to say something cooler next time”.

“In private he can use whatever language he likes, but in the House of Commons we have to keep up appearances. Words like ‘pipsqueak’ make us sound like we’re a bunch of toffs.”

David Cameron has taken the opportunity to criticise the Labour Party, claiming that this incident marks a shift in British politics. Cameron told reporters that the Conservatives were no longer the “stuffy, out-of-touch party” and that this title now belonged to Labour.

“I was speaking to Michael about the incident and he called Tom Watson a douchebag, which I think goes to show how different our two parties are.”

While the Conservatives may have benefited from Watson’s choice of language, the Prime Minister admitted that Gove’s actions have been equally damaging, “it’s no good being down with the kids if you’re also utterly incompetent.”

In addition to these problems, the government may be facing legal action from councils and private construction companies that have suffered as a result of the cancelled building programmes.

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