PMQs: Opposition leader asks: “Can I agree with the Prime Minister”?

2012’s first Prime Minister’s Questions started with a bit of a score draw about rail fares. It got rather heated as Ed Miliband said the government had allowed fares to go up by 11%. He said:

The last Labour government saw that the train companies were taking advantage of consumers…we took away that power from them

David Cameron retorted that:

The power (to increase fares well above inflation) was given to them to do that by the last Labour government.

Channel 4 News FactCheck, as usual,has an excellent analysis of this spat, concluding that they couldn’t give either men a “Fact” or “Fiction” rating:

Labour may not have invented the practice but they allowed the operators to get away with it for 12 of their 13 years in government, until changing tack just before the last general election. It’s not clear whether the new policy would have been permanent.

But it’s indisputable that the Coalition abandoned it when they came to power, putting commuters in the situation in which they now find themselves.

Perhaps the best summary comes from Stephen Joseph from the Campaign for Better Transport, who told FactCheck:

Fares in the UK are well above European averages. Both parties have bought the argument that the cost should be borne by fare-payers.

We would argue that other countries have taken a different view – that a good transport network benefits everyone and it should not just be paid for by fare-payers but through other means.

That ding-dong was followed by violent agreement on the subject of Scotland.

It was a deeply underwhelming start to the new year for Ed Miliband, who needed a good performance to counter recent rumblings in his party about his leadership. In the past, he has chosen some good subjects on which to tax Cameron. The rail fare thing really was a mistake, given Labour’s record on the subject. He tried hard, but it just didn’t wash.

You can’t fault Miliband’s sincerity and belief. I would prefer to talk with him than Cameron. But he is relatively hopeless at PMQs, labouriously blathering away and tripping over his words. No style. No real wit. Just blundering on.

I think of previous Labour leaders. Smith, Blair, Foot…even Kinnock. Miliband is simply not as good as them. The only close comparison to Miliband I can think of is Gordon Brown. That’s not flattering.

LibDem Questions:

Greg Mulholland asked whether the PM would ensure that the White Paper on the care of older people will present a real way forward “on this vital issue”.

Mike Crockart asked if Cameron will ensure that 2012 is the last year that the Guantanamo Bay detention centre operates.

Sir Bob Russell asked a very powerful question which I quote in full:

Ethnic cleansing and apartheid are evil. Sadly, successive Governments have supported a country where those vile actions are inflicted on indigenous people. We welcomed the Arab spring, but the long Arab winter continues for Palestinians. Last Tuesday the Israeli Government said that they would proceed with the forced eviction of 30,000 Bedouin Arabs from their historic lands. Is it not time we treated Israel as we did apartheid South Africa?

Paul Walter blogs at Liberal Burblings

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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One Comment

  • Malcolm Todd 12th Jan '12 - 10:15am

    “Mike Crockart asked if Cameron will ensure that 2012 is the last year that the Guantanamo Bay detention centre operates.”
    — How on earth did he imagine Cameron would do that?

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