PMQs: Cameron’s wheels start falling off

For the third week out of the last four, a Liberal Democrat asked the first question at Prime Minister’s Questions. This is turning into a tradition! Yay! This week it was the turn of Roger Williams to go through the charade of asking the PM for an entirely predictable list of his engagements for the day. Rather cleverly, albeit interrupted by some harrying from the Speaker, Roger manage to squeeze in two points: a) the key role played by the Sennybridge ranges and the infantry battle school in his constituency and b) a question about foreign students and universities: “Can the Prime Minister give an assurance to the universities that any proposals will not discourage the recruitment of genuine students?” Yes, said the Prime Minister, in terms, but we have to crack down on abuse, he added.

A good opening gambit from Ed Miliband: “Can the Prime Minister tell us, how is his big society going?”

Some laughter ensued. Cameron retorted that all MPs support it, but, oddly, found himself having to explain what it is. Miliband threw in a quote from the chief executive of Community Service Volunteers saying that government policies are “Destroying the volunteer army.” Cameron replied that the government are putting £470 million into charities and volunteering bodies. £100million will go from the banks into the “Big Society Bank.”

Miliband replied “The Prime Minister does not mention that he is cutting billions of pounds from voluntary sector organisations up and down this country.” He mentioned that the Daycare Trust says that 270 Sure Start schemes are likely to close. Ed Miliband was onto a bit of a winner here.

Cameron then responded with a contradicting quote from the head of the Daycare Trust. Then, for a moment, Cameron seems to have hit his head on the dispatch box and regressed back to those happy times when he was Opposition leader: “I look forward to the answer to this one.”

Hello? To use Ed Miliband’s catch-phrase: “I ask the questions.”

Then the opposition leader mentioned the cuts in local government funding and a quote from the Conservative head of the Local Government Association saying that Eric Pickles is “detached from reality” in alleging the cuts would not impact frontline services. “Can he explain to people who are concerned about [library closures] how he expects people to volunteer at the local library if it is being shut down?” That was an excellent line. This really was a good week for Ed Miliband. That line, indeed, was so good that Cameron didn’t answer it straight away and played for time (?) by quoting some figures on Sure Start demonstrating that their budget is going up.

Fair enough, but a bit late. If you miss a few seconds at PMQs you’re dead meat. [Wheel one comes off.]

Cameron eventually got round to libraries and said that their funding is returning to 2007 levels so there shouldn’t be a problem – which is possibly a non-sequitur. And then Cameron really went out on a limb and started talking off script. He said that investment would go to libraries “that wake up to the world of new technology, the internet and everything else”. Everything else? What? – Like stocking books which people want to read? Or did he mean that libraries should stock do-it-yourself warm fusion kits? [Wheel two comes off.]

That got a beautiful reply from Miliband: “Only this Prime Minister could blame the libraries for closing.”

Miliband laid into the PM and quoted “his big society adviser, Paul Twivy” who apparently said that the big society idea “is increasingly loathed by the public.”

We then got a rich mix of trees being chopped down to produce Ed Miliband’s book of blank pages, Attila the Hun, Mother Theresa and David Davis (spot the difference). Miliband asked “Is not the truth being exposed day by day—he is cutting too far and too fast, and society is becoming smaller and weaker, not bigger and stronger?”

Then we were plunged back into the “mess Labour left” and Balls’ deficit denial, replete with deficit confirmation from the Institute of Fiscal Studies. Cameron finished strongly after a bit of a pasting of his pet project, the “Big Society”: “The truth about the Opposition is that they doubled the debt, let the banks rip and bankrupted the country, and their only message is, ‘Let us do it all over again.’”

Other snippets were:

  • Conservative Christopher Chope asked if Cameron would go along with the Lords’ amendment to have a 40% threshold on the AV referendum, or at least allow a free vote on it in the Commons. Cameron said, more or less, ‘no’ (saying that previous referendums haven’t had thresholds) and asked Chope to join him to encourage people to vote in the referendum.
  • We had, if I’m not mistaken, a “Closed Question”. Don’t ask. I think this is a question which is slipped into the garter of the Speaker the night before (while he’s, ahem, folding up bedsheets with his wife) written in Middle English on goatskin in green ink. It was from Julian Lewis (Conservative) about the nuclear deterrent. Cameron said twice: “The replacement of Trident is going ahead”. I thought it had been shelved. Ho hum. “The initial gate will soon be passed” – I’d love to know what that means. “That is Conservative policy; it will remain Conservative policy as long as I am the leader of this party.” – he said with Nick Clegg beside him. A bit odd that…
  • David Cairns (Labour) highlighted the government’s penchant for rebranding: “antisocial behaviour orders as criminal behaviour orders, ….control orders as terrorism prevention and investigation measures, and ….curfews as overnight residence requirements.”
  • Valerie Vaz (Labour) wins “Laboured (nay, tortured) line of the year” award for “Is it the case that the NHS is not safe in the hands of the Government, but that the hands are in the safe of the NHS?”
  • Liberal Democrat Ian Swales asked what I think is his first question at PMQs. It was about the punishment for knife crime. Cameron said that the offence of carrying a knife should receive a prison sentence. He added about knife crime and Labour: “they were as soft as anything on it.” As “soft as anything”? Running out of idiomatic steam are we, Mr Cameron? That wouldn’t include being as soft as rock, would it? Rock is anything, after all. [Wheel three comes off with a clang.] Time for a break at Chequers, methinks.
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This entry was posted in PMQs.


  • Cameron was well rattled and totally lost the plot with his Sure Start reply which was totally wrong. He quoted next year’s figures for the programme that Sure Start is just a part of – Number 1 error.

    No 2 error came when he said the budget was going up this year – it isn’t it’s falling.

    Looks as though the Company Chairman is taking some leaves out of Clegg and Wei’s electonic books as there’s no real ones in coalition libraries and putting his feet up and not doing any homework.

    Julian Lewes had a real swipe at Tim Farron claiming victory on Trident and more or less asked Cameron to slap him down which the Great Leader did in declaring that as long as he was about there would always be a Trident.

    FYI: The Initial Gate is the decision point at the end of the ‘concept phase’ for the Trident replacement programme. It will include a decision on whether the Vanguard submarines should be replaced by three or four new boats, and marks the start of the design phase.

  • Depressed Ex Lib Dem 10th Feb '11 - 12:26am

    Should we perhaps start calling you “Comical Andy”?

  • poppie's mum 10th Feb '11 - 8:33am

    andrew tennant@
    “I thought Cameron seemed very well briefed and was the comfortable winner; different eyes eh?”

    Time to go to SpecSave if you thought Cameron’s combination of misinformation, bluster and bully boy made him the winner.
    When he brandished an empty exercise book saying it contained Labour’s plans he must have been absolutely desperate.
    Still he had the braying Tories and the ever more sick looking and puffy faced Clegg cheering him on.

  • Hello? To use Ed Miliband’s catch-phrase: “I ask the questions.”
    I’ve got to give the PM a little latitude on that one; Blair used to ask him questions all the time, and accuse him of having no answers of his own to the country’s problems…just like Cameron uses against Miliband (the whole ‘blank sheet of paper’ things makes it easier)

  • Wheels coming off? I thought the Coalition looked like it was on bricks with the seats being removed yesterday.

    EdM has bested Cameron in all but one of their encounters. Cameron looks less like a PM every day and more like an over-promoted middle manager, desperately trying to get his boss to notice him.

    The gag with the empty notepad was cringeworthy.

    The most revealing things for me were:
    – Clegg. For the first time I can remember since he decided to go into Coalition he didn’t do his braying, nodding dog routine every time Cameron spoke. He sat, stony faced, refusing to engage with anything or anyone. Very interesting.
    – Tory backbenchers. How many of those questions from them were aggressive? Half? When your own back-benches start throwing spears at you in PMQs, there’s a deeper malaise just brewing.

  • Wheels coming off? I thought the Coalition looked like it was on bricks with the seats being removed yesterday.
    I think it’s more a case of Cameron beign regarded in general as a smooth operator in the Commons but not yesterday, rather than the Coalition specifically. To a certain extent I’m in favour of the Coalition, but even at best, to extend the metaphor, I would think it has been a bumpy ride, with bits falling off and ominous groaning coming from every angle, and several seat springs constantly digging painfully into your back, with a steering wheel that has somehow been connected with a heating rod.

    Wow that was tortured. Regardless, Cameron didn’t look as comfortable as usual, Miliband rarely looks comfortable to me anyway (just a style issue) but he did better than some weeks when various pundits have laid into his performances, but each side tends to, as onewould expect, steadfastly maintin their guy wiped the floor with the other anyway, unless it was such a disaster that even hardened political operators could not keep a straight face, so it is hard to really judge.

  • I’d forgotten about Trident!

    Very, very interesting. Cameron dismissed the claims by the Lib Dems they they could take credit for the delay in the procurement.

    Mind, seeing as the only place where I saw that claim being made was on this very blog, it’s no surprise really.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 10th Feb '11 - 10:08am

    Clegg didn’t look comfortable?

    Not surprising really; as someone has pointed out on another thread today, he’s got a pain in the a***.

  • @Martin Veart

    FYI: The Initial Gate is the decision point at the end of the ‘concept phase’ for the Trident replacement programme. It will include a decision on whether the Vanguard submarines should be replaced by three or four new boats, and marks the start of the design phase.

    Trident is going ahead and Cameron has made that clear – there has never been any doubt about that. Cameron helped the LibDems out at last Autumn’s Party Conference when he gave them a bit of -wiggle-room’ over Trident. The announcement of the decision was delayed but the decision wasn’t and work has never stopped – the delay doesn’t matter because of the wrong lead times to Trident of the order of 20 years so a few months to get the LibDems out of a conference ‘jam’ meant nothing to Cameron.

    What has infuriated him is the likes of Tim Farrom and others publicly claiming a ‘victory’ on the issue and that’s why there was a planted question from a Tory backbencher so that he could slap the LibDems down on the issue because the Initial Gate decision is coming very soon and I assume the LibDems are trying to put pressure on.

    It’s a waste of time and you are right the DSR has changed nothing because by the time this comes to a vote – like the aircraft carriers – too much will have been spent to cancel Trident and it will be cheaper to continue or objectively look at cheaper alternatives.

    As I’ve said before no point in getting worked up as Trident is going ahead 🙂

  • oops – ‘wrong lead times’ should read ‘long lead times’

  • @Martin Veart

    The way the LibDems have learned how to turn gold into lead means them being anti-Trident will probably turn the public pro-Trident as no one believes anything coming from the LibDem Parly Party

  • Alistair Rae 11th Feb '11 - 3:42pm


    Since there is no authority to release any money to pay for the boats until Main Gate I would be very surprised if anything had been built before then. There is a significant amount of investment going in to the concept phase, and will go in to the design phase. The reason that up to 20% of total funding should go in to the concept phase is to de-risk the rest of the project. It’s not being spent on kit.

    Greenpeace are, as ever, playing fast and loose with the material that they’ve obtained.

  • Paul McKeown 11th Feb '11 - 3:58pm

    Paul Walter: would you consider doing a weekly QT piece, too? I’ld read it…

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