As parliament argues over another coalition U-turn – this time fighter jets – praise for hairdressers proves far more grounding
The omnishambles in government continues. Day after day it rolls on. Now it’s a megashambles. Or in the jargon, a shambles going forward. Yesterday’s Guardian story, about the U-turn on the navy’s aircraft carrier jets, was the latest.
But before that, we had a brief discussion about hairdressers. Richard Fuller, the Tory MP for Bedford, paid tribute to the late Vidal Sassoon, who had “revolutionised hairstyling”. But he was not alone. Fuller furnished a list of other crimpers in the Bedford area, including “Sugar, at Sugaz”. Even more exciting, the National Hairdressers’ Federation is, it turns out, based in Bedford. He praised the work of barbers. They promote entrepreneurship, apprenticeships, and “making all of us feel a little bit better”. Not so much omnishambles as omnishampoo and set.
It has to be said that his remarks were greeted with a certain amount of sniggering. They were unfitting, perhaps, for the solemn matter of business questions. He was not riding along on the crest of a permanent wave. But I was reminded of a speech the Rev Jesse Jackson used to give during his periodic attempts to win the American presidency. He would say: “Hands up, any of you folks got a video recorder at home” and almost every arm would rise. Then: “Hands up, which of you got an MX missile at home?” Everyone would laugh, and Jackson would say: “That’s our problem. We’re making stuff ain’t nobody wants to buy.”
And parliament spends a lot of time debating stuff ain’t nobody interested in. How many of us have ever gone for a haircut? And how many of us have ever had to choose between the F-35B and the F-35C version of the Joint Strike Fighter? In my experience, parliament is often at its best when it’s debating things that relate to everyone’s daily lives.
The gist of the Guardian story was, and I paraphrase, that the government had planned to purchase one version of the fighter, better than the Labour government had intended to buy. But they’ve been told that it would cost billions to convert our two (at present non-existent) aircraft carriers. So they have gone back to plan A, which is to buy B, or F-35B, if you catch my drift.
So the defence secretary, Philip Hammond, had a difficult case to make. He did it with his customary aggression, claiming that it was all the fault of the Labour government that the Conservative government was obliged to go back to what the Labour government planned in the first place.
“When the facts change, the responsible thing to do is change,” said Hammond, to loud Labour mockery. “It shows that we at least are not afraid to take the difficult decisions when they are right for Britain,” he declared, failing to add, “when those difficult decisions were actually taken years ago by the other side.” Jim Murphy, the shadow defence secretary, said that “omnishambles” was now a compliment compared to reality. It was incompetence piled upon hubris.
A former defence secretary sort of came to Mr Hammond’s aid, but it was Liam Fox, so that didn’t count.
As Vidal Sassoon would have said: “No more savage cuts.”