PMQs: The blank sheet of paper drowns – or at least gets decidedly soggy

We’re now getting an obligatory minimum of four mentions of the “blank sheet of paper” by David Cameron at each Prime Minister’s Questions session. I may be firing off prematurely, but Ed “Blank sheet” Miliband struggled today. Given the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast was generally sanguine, he had weak material to play with. But one wonders: who is he trying to kid?

Ed Miliband pointed out that the OBR say that unemployment will rise next year. This is because they’ve reduced their forecast for unemployment this year and left next year as it was. They’ve reduced the forecast of public sector jobs to be lost from 490,000 to 330,000 and said that in future years there will be a gradual decrease in unemployment, with the rate falling every year. So, OK, Ed Miliband was right with his narrow point. But he struggled to make a “slam dunk” case on the subject of unemployment. Indeed, he did not.

We then had an exchange of unemployment and growth rates for various countries. Miliband then criticised the rise in VAT from 4th January next year and a public spending cut of “£20 billion”, mentioning the “weakest recovery from recession for 40 years” quote from the OBR.

Ed Miliband then asked when unemployment will rise to pre-recession levels. This was a weak point given that the OBR say that by the end of this Parliament unemployment will fall to just above 6 per cent – that is about half a million fewer unemployed people than at the beginning of this Parliament.
Cameron mentioned this saying “He asked the question, he gets the answer”. I must say, that was probably the first time in six months that Cameron could say that at the dispatch box with even a rough approximation of truthfulness. I am not sure he answered the precise point, even then.
But Cameron then played a trump card, quoting Alistair Darling saying “VAT would have allowed you to pay off a sizeable chunk of the deficit” saying that Darling “supported” the policy (allegedly).

Cameron said that if the government had acted on the advice of Labour, the country would have ended up like the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain). Presumably they would then be “UPIGS” or “GUPIS”…or something.

Then Miliband asked Cameron to say “yes” or “no” as to whether this is the most sluggish recovery for 40 years. Nice try.

With two more “blank sheet of paper” mentions we were onto Miliband quoting Hague saying that the current government – or hopefully the Tories in it – are “children of Thatcher” – complete with 80s style job losses, he said.

Cameron replied that Miliband was “drowning not waving”. He then made a very powerful closing retort to Miliband. I know it was good because a random “man in the street” technician passing by me in front of the TV screen at work with his coffee snortily laughed – loudly – when he said it:

I would rather be a child of Thatcher than a son of Brown.

Other snippets:

Caroline Dineage needs to speak up – or perhaps improve her luck so she is speaking into a decent microphone.

Lindsay Roy (Labour) came up with a list which might come back to haunt the government. They are allegedly spending £4 billion so that councils can promote “wellness” (not necessarily a bad thing except semantically), £2 billion on reorganising the NHS, £100 million on electing police commissioners and £2 million on a happiness survey. I bet the whips gave him that list. The PM said “he should cheer up a bit”.

The government is considering sending Irish prisoners in the UK back to Ireland.
Tom Brake (Liberal Democrat) has shaved off his moustache and came up with a marvellous array of phrases to condemn Labour’s attitude to crime, describing it as “tub-thumping, shroud-waving, ambulance-chasing antics”. I wish I was a cartoonist. Is it possible to even draw someone chasing an ambulance while waving a shroud and thumping a tub?

Steve Rotherham, Labour MP for Walton, Liverpool has a lovely scouse accent and says “broke” beautifully. He asked if the sat nav on Nick Clegg’s official car had malfunctioned – “Is the sat-nav broke?”. It sounded wonderful. And made some sense.

Staying with Liverpool, another list which might come back to haunt the government: Louise Ellman said the government are cutting their teaching grant to Liverpool Univesrity by 30%, to Liverpool John Moores university by 70%, and to Liverpool Hope university by 97%.

Ian Paisley was called by the Speaker. Hang on a minute, I thought, hasn’t he retired? Ah. No. It was his son – asking if Ballymena can be made a city. Only if there’s another city which can be created in Northern Ireland at the same time, mate. They always do it in twos in Northern Ireland. He should know that.

I smell a U-Turn. Last week, Ed Miliband attacked Cameron for doing away with the School Sports Partnerships. This week Cameron seemed to say he would reconsider their abolition, in an answer to former Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe.

Stephen Williams (Liberal Democrat) asked, on World Aids Day, what the government are doing to stem the tide of HIV.

Grahame W Morris (Labour) reported that, in a visit last week to Isarael and the west bank, he saw 13-year-old Palestinian children in leg irons and manacles in Israeli military prisons.
Bob Russell (Liberal Democrat) asked whether it is fair that a war widow has to pay income tax on her war widow’s pension.

Caroline Lucas (Green) popped up asking about the Cancun summit.

Finally, “Question of the Week”, in my view, came from Daniel Kawczynski (Conservative):
Will the Prime Minister have urgent talks with the Leader of the House and the Business Secretary on introducing legislation for a national regulator or ombudsman for supermarkets before more suppliers are decimated by their conduct?

Well said, that man. Cameron seemed to agree (ish) with the suggestion.

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6 Comments

  • “I would rather be a child of Thatcher than a son of Brown.”

    I’m afraid I would rather end it all right now then be either !

    Milliband was poor today and allowed Cameron to get away with the impending Sports U-Turn. He also needed to retort to the PIGS quote by reminding the house of Osbournes love affair with the Irish approach to deficit reduction. He needs to up his game or the whispers of discontent will soon turn to shouts me thinks…

  • Nick (not Clegg) 2nd Dec '10 - 8:35am

    If Cameron, Hague and Co are happy to call themselves children of Thatcher, what does that make Clegg, Alexander and Co: her illegitimate progeny?

  • Particularly embarrassing to see how many Liberal Democrat ministers cheered when Cameron proudly proclaimed he and the government were the children of Thatcher.

  • One reason the unemployment figure is wrong and does not show the real picture, is because after so many weeks on the unemployment benefit you are taken off the unemployment benefit and told to claim pension credit or social security benefit even if you have a record of applying for more jobs than they demand of you or you have problems with your last employer reference that stopped you getting a job. You are left high and dry without income. And stats show 1 less unemployed which is not a true picture of the facts. In fact with no income you don’t have resources to apply for work or to travel to a interview.

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