March 26: Politicians and the public trust

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THERE was a familiar pattern to the 146th and final Prime Minister’s Questions of this Parliament – pre-prepared one-liners, interventions made at the behest of the party whips on both sides of the Commons and David Cameron being contemptuous of Ed Miliband.

When it should be a matter of Parliamentary pride that the Prime Minister can be held accountable once a week by backbenchers, these unedifying sessions now represent the very worst of politics – the yah-boo name-calling would not be tolerated in the most ill-disciplined of schools.

If this is indicative of the election, and the setpiece TV appearances of the main leaders which begin tonight, is it any wonder that voters are so underwhelmed? One of the first acts of the next Parliament should be to examine how PMQs can be made more relevant to the country at large.

That said, it was the Tories who left Westminster in the greater heart after Mr Cameron wrong-footed Labour with the one “straight answer” that he did give to a “straight question” – namely his promise that the Conservatives will not raise VAT after the election.

Time will tell whether this is another one of Mr Cameron’s “no ifs, no buts” promises that is later reversed, but the optimism of Tory MPs on the economy contrasted with the negativity which emanated from the Opposition benches as a succession of Labour backbenchers talked down the country’s future prospects and Mr Miliband refused to rule out an increase in National Insurance if his party is elected to power.

On a bad day for Labour, Mr Cameron also laughed off suggestions that he is now a lame duck after ruling out a third term in office by portraying Mr Miliband as Alex Salmond’s poodle. Such unflattering animal caricatures show up politics for what it has become – a dirty business – and never more so than on the eve of an election.

Tip of the iceberg

True cost of domestic violence

IT is virtually impossible to ascertain the true cost of domestic violence to Yorkshire – a price cannot be put on the torment endured by victims, and it is a sad indictment on society that many are still too terrified to seek the help that can spare them from further misery.

However it can only be hoped that they draw comfort from the increased number of people of both sexes who have had the courage to report instances of abuse to the police and other agencies – the authorities are more sensitive today to such cases and their impact on other family members such as young children.

Yet it is only when the statistics are laid bare for a city like Leeds that the shocking scale of violence can be put into wider perspective. Of the 14,000 incidents reported last year, one third involved repeat offenders already known to the authorities. It begs the question whether the cycle of physical and mental torment can be nullified with earlier intervention.

It is also said domestic violence costs the Leeds economy £323m a year through staff absenteeism and lost productivity. To put this figure into context, it is more than five times the construction cost of the city’s First Direct Arena and employers do need to be more aware of this issue. However the best deterrent remains victims having

the confidence to report abuse – and for the courts to pass down punishments that reflect the seriousness of these crimes.

Seize the moment

Yorkshire’s first female bishop

AHEAD of a general election in which women will continue to be under-represented in the Houses of Parliament, how ironic that it is the Church of England – the most conservative of institutions – which is now intent on making up for lost ground with the Reverend Canon Alison White’s appointment as the next Bishop of Hull in succession to the cricket-loving Richard Frith.

Not only does the new bishop appear exceptionally well-qualified to enhance the lives of people throughout East Yorkshire – she was described as “a person of real godliness and wisdom” by the Archbishop of York – but it also leaves this region at the vanguard of the seismic changes now taking place within the Church of England after senior clergy belatedly recognised the importance of women to their work.

After all, it was a meeting of the General Synod in York in July last year which paved the way for January’s consecration, in York Minster, of Libby Lane as Britain’s first female bishop. Now the tide has turned in favour of progress and equality, the Church has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to seize the moment and become more relevant to contemporary society. It must be taken.