Most of the exchanges at PMQs today were fairly predictable in the light of yesterday’s autumn statement. Ed Miliband accused the prime minister of having failed to meet his fiscal plan; the prime minister accused Labour of wanting to borrow even more.
But there was a fascinating undercurrent running throughout this session, one that took us back to the politics of the 1970s and 80s.
It began with Miliband’s first question. Perhaps surprisingly, given links to the unions are often perceived as one of Labour’s weak points, he went straight in on the strike action by public sector workers taking place across the country today. Not only that, but he identified overtly with those on strike: Read more
Ed Miliband had some good lines ready for today’s prime minister’s questions. He decided to focus on youth unemployment, which recently topped 1 million people for the first time since records began.
Sensibly, he focused on long-term youth unemployment (over 12 months out of work, which is now at 260,000 people): both because Cameron would probably misinterpret the question and try to answer on overall youth unemployment (he did), and because the longer young people stay out of work, the harder it is for them to get back into the jobs market when the economy recovers.
Miliband decided to focus on the effect of scrapping Labour’s Future Jobs Fund, but Cameron was able to bat that away by referring to the Work Programme: Read more
It was an intriguing PMQs today. As I have previously noted, Ed Miliband has begun to find his feet on the economy, and once again used this as his main attack line.
As he has done at previous sessions he chose an obscure policy that has achieved little so far (this time the “business growth fund”, which was set up using money from the Merlin agreement), and used it to embarrass the PM.
As has happened before, Cameron didn’t know what the policy was (in fact at the end, he started talking about the Regional Growth Fund – a different fund altogether). So when asked how many businesses the fund had invested in, he was unable to answer. Read more
Ed Miliband’s interventions on Europe have a habit of serving only to bring David Cameron closer to his own backbenchers on the issue. On Monday, as Tory rebels lined up in their dozens to defy Cameron on an EU referendum, Miliband was the only one who managed to restore harmony on the Tory benches, uniting them in laughter when he said:
Apparently president Sarkozy – until recently his new best friend – had had enough of the posturing, lecturing and know-it-all ways. Let me say, Mr President, you spoke not just for France but for Britain as well.
At PMQs on Wednesday, a similar thing happened. Miliband had some good lines, including telling saying Cameron “was pleading with his backbenchers instead of leading for Britain in Europe”.
At today’s PMQs, we saw a first: it was the first time that Ed Miliband attacked Cameron on the economy, and won – well almost.
Provided with the ammunition of some terrible employment figures, Miliband had an ideal quote with which to bash the prime minister:
The prime minister justified his economic policy by saying unemployment would fall this year, next year and the year after. Isn’t it time he admitted his plan isn’t working?
On the day after George Osborne admitted that he had recently lowered his short-term growth expectations, and with a row currently waging over the government’s wish to scrap the popular 50p top rate of income tax, Ed Miliband might have been expected to use the first PMQs after the summer to attack David Cameron on the economy.
But instead, we found ourselves in two rather old arguments, about police numbers and NHS waiting lists. While both are undoubtedly important subjects, somehow the debate felt a bit off-topic.
The reason for Miliband avoiding the big issue of the day became apparent later in the session, when the prime minister was asked by a Labour backbencher about the 50p rate and replied:
The person responsible for Labour’s economic policy at the last election said that they had no credibility whatsoever.
He was referring to Alistair Darling, Labour’s former chancellor, whose memoirs published this week describe a 2009 pre-Budget report whose creation was so chaotic and disunified that it resulted in a complete mess of an economic policy. Read more
It’s taken him a few weeks, but David Cameron is beginning to show signs of rising to the challenge phone hacking has posed to him him and his government.
In remarkably noisy and at time angry exchanges in the Commons during PMQs, the prime minister showed he has now found an answer for most of Labour’s questions. These include:
- The public inquiry. All three parties now agree on this, and Cameron started the ball rolling today, announcing Lord Justice Leveson to head it.
- Rebekah Brooks’ position. Saying he would have accepted her resignation is not the same as calling for her head, but it is as close as Cameron can feasibly get.
- The BSkyB bid. Cameron still insts the legal processes have to be followed, but he now says he would like News Corp to drop the bid, telling them to “get their house in order”. To suggest Jeremy Hunt still has the freedom to accept the bid now seems unfeasible, but at least Cameron is on the side of public opinion.
- Media regulation. He says this should be “independent” rather than Ed Miliband’s preferred “self-regulation”. This coud even put him ahead of the Labour leader in terms of where the public is on the issue.
Ed Miliband clearly has a new strategy for PMQs.
He began with some warm-up questions about the cost of the Afghanistan war, which he ended with a nice line about Cameron being “very crass and high-handed” when telling army chiefs, “You do the fighting, I’ll do the talking”. These were easily enough dealt with by the PM (although he did have an interesting line about wanting the strategic defence review to be implemented more quickly – more on that to follow.
But he scored a more direct hit when he began asking about DNA records of people who have been arrested for rape, but not charged. Read more
It is hard not to conclude that Ed Miliband won the major clash of the day at PMQs* over the direction of NHS reform.
David Cameron cited today’s letter to the Telegraph from 42 GPs, saying they wanted what they called “evolution not revolution”.(They are all heads of recently-formed GPs’ consortia). Read more
This time a week ago David Cameron struck an impressively statesmanlike tone at prime minister’s questions, as we noted at the time.
Today the exchange between the two leaders was again fairly dignified, with Ed Miliband raising international policy issues in the tone of someone who knew that the PM would agree with him. (eg Would he like to see an orderly transition to democracy in Egypt: answer, yes of course). Read more
Nick Clegg and Jack Straw
This blog tries not to resort to negative cynicism about politics and our politicians: other media outlets do a sterling job of that. But watching the historic moment when a Liberal Democrat stood at the despatch box for the first time ever at PMQs, I couldn’t help feel that the history of the moment was drowned by farcically long-winded questions, non-answers and puerile interruptions. (Although I don’t want to sound too po-faced, if you ignore the substantive politics, it was very good fun.)
The mood in the Commons was especially rowdy, even for a normal PMQs. With the Lib Dems sinking in the polls Labour sniffed a chance to give Nick Clegg a kicking while both Tories and the Lib Dems sensed the need to give their man their full backing. All this led to a bubbling cauldron of noise, with John Bercow, the speaker, telling MPs off even before questions began.
And by the time it came to the main event, Jack Straw versus Nick Clegg, the House was at boiling point. Read more
David Lloyd George, the last Liberal to face questions to a prime minister
This afternoon Nick Clegg will become the first Liberal to face questions to a prime minister since Lloyd George in 1922, and the first ever Liberal Democrat to face prime minister’s questions as they were formalised in 1961.
After his successful performances on the television debates during the campaign, you might think this would be a pushover for Clegg. But PMQs is a strange beast, where prime ministers (or their deputies) can suddenly be blindsided by an unexpected question or have to face the mocking laughter of a packed House after an unconvincing answer. Read more