Mrs Thatcher and Chairman Mao visit PMQs

Unlike last week, when it took me several days to work it out, I could work out what Ed Miliband was trying to do at Prime Minister’s Questions today. Though she is happily on the road to recovery in hospital, the Labour leader skilfully raised the political spectre of Maggie T.

Miliband started by quoting the Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, about the risk of a “double dip recession”. He asked the PM if Clarke was right – “yes or no?” (which is rapidly turning into Miliband-E’s catchphrase). Cameron very effectively batted that one away by asking Miliband to read out the whole quote from Clarke, which makes clear he was talking about a world recession.

For a moment, it was as if the bottom had fallen out of Miliband’s world just after Cameron had accused him of not having “bottom”). A bit like Enfield and Whitehouse’s characters on Dragon’s Den when one of the dragons asks them a simple but devastating question like “Who is going to buy your pussy cruncher when everyone likes pussies?” and then there is a terrified silence while the two pussy cruncher salesmen start involuntarily pouring perspiration from beneath their armpits. They don’t have an answer.

Well, the only answer Miliband had for Cameron was to ask the same question again. He needed time to think.

The same answer came.

But then Miliband found his feet and managed to box the PM into a corner. He twice asked if unemployment will go up or down: “Yes or No”? Cameron batted that away by quoting an alleged independent study saying it will go down.

When Cameron wouldn’t give a yes or no to the question of whether he would alter his cuts plans if unemployment went up, Miliband cleverly, in my view, ushered in the spectre of Maggie T. “Unemployment is a price worth paying”. “If it isn’t hurting it isn’t working”. He said that Cameron had “lashed himself to the mast” of cuts and that he was taking risks with people’s jobs and livelihoods.

A good point well made by Miliband, I thought. But Cameron did neutralize it, to a reasonable degree, with his closing shot: “If you haven’t got a plan you can’t attack a plan. He hasn’t got a plan so he has nothing to say.”

Almost a score draw, but as I got beaten black and blue last week for daring to make a joke about Miliband-E’s appearance, I will give the leader of the opposition the benefit of the doubt this week and give him a points win.

Cameron did come up with a good joke later on in the session. He announced that even Cuba is cutting public expenditure, saying that “this leaves the Labour party somewhere between Cuba and China”.

And, what’s more, we had a surreal experience. Mr Speaker often interjects saying: “I want to hear what the minister has to say about x, y or z” in a sort of cosy way. Today he said: “I want to hear what the Prime Minister has to say about Chairman Mao”. Really? What obscure predilections our beloved Mr Speaker has!

Oh and by the way. Talking of ghosts rising from the dead. Stephen Twigg (of ‘were you still up for Portillo?’ fame) asked a question – his first now he has been rescued from a marginal seat, which he lost, to a stonkingly safe Labour seat in Liverpool, which he won – stonkingly.

Oh and Duncan Hames asked what, I think, was his first question at PMQs. It was about the higher education funding issue. Welcome Duncan!

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  • “If it isn’t hurting…” is a Thatcher-era quote, from John Major in 1989. But the other is from Norman Lamont in the early 1990s.

    I’m not sure Cameron is right about Clarke’s double dip comments. Unless there’s a verbatim version I’ve not seen, in the Observer article Clarke says ‘western economy’ but then says ‘our’ before he mentions double dip. Also the interviewer clearly felt he meant the UK as that’s how they set up the quotation. My own view is that he meant our and other European economies.

    “He still considers himself a pessimist on the question of Britain’s economic outlook. “I’m still not sunnily optimistic about where the western economy’s going. I think there’s below a 50-50 chance of a double-dip recession. What I’m worried about is global uncertainties and our being hit by downturns in key markets. I do not rule out the risk of a double-dip recession caused by some fresh wave of global fear and crisis.”

  • coalition kid 20th Oct '10 - 2:39pm

    I had to say looking at it objectively I thought the fact that there wasn’t a Labour plan (certainly not one they’d want to discuss) it made it full marks to Cameron. Without that all other questions on the subject are superfluous.

  • Terry Gilbert 20th Oct '10 - 2:48pm

    At least Cuba has free HE.

  • Mike(The Labour one) 20th Oct '10 - 3:11pm

    I’d say the same about your Tory viewpoint Andrew Tennant.

    This spending review has done wonderful things, though- apparently the people who need Employment and Support Allowance will be healed after one year and able to find any work. Arms and legs will regrow and the disabled will be able to take one of the glut of new jobs that will surely be created in the private sector!

  • Matthew, Norman Lamont revived the quote but originally it was used by Margaret Thatcheer in response to a question in the early ’80s about whether it was worth spending the bulk of north sea oil revenue on unemployment benefit, to which she replied along the lines that if it were to break the trade unions and the power of the working man then it was a price worth paying. There are precious few things that the Conservatives do not think of high unemployment being a worthy price. Their history in government and their trickle down economic ideology actually requires it, which is why they bumped it up to around 3.5million from less than 900,000 in their first term in government in the 1980’s and kept it around 3million for the next 17 years.
    Andrew Tennant, I saw it in almost entirely the opposite way to you. The Ed Miliband I saw was similar to that described by Paul Walter. Alan Johnson made the right mood music without much commitment to policy (good tactics in opposition) but also made a good fist of nailing the lie that the whole world is falling apart because of a slight rise in public spending and borrowing by Gordon Brown rather than anything to with the credit collapse. And David Cameron was everything we got so upset by in Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, arrogant, smug and patronising with a complete refusal to answer a straight question.

  • Shrugs
    Another example of how this all seems to be a jolly lark to you. Heres an idea get down to your local sorting office’mental health charity centre or talk to some of the poor blighters at the job centre (staff as well) and try listening as well as talking then think hard about your loyalty to your party.

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