PMQs: The Coronation of Basil Brush

There was all the seasonal fun of the pantomime thrown in to Prime Minister’s Questions today: “Broad brush”, “Air brush”, “Basil Brush” (Cameron’s description of Miliband) – the coalition leadership depicted as the pantomime horse and, of course, “Look behind you”. It was all there.

Ed Miliband in special sotto voce mode, asked about the unemployment increase of 35,000 saying that, with this, Cameron’s claims of being “out of the danger zone” seem “very hollow”. Cameron went on about something called the Work Programme and said claimants were down and vacancies were up.

Miliband (reverting to his bunged-up “Choones” voice) said that Cameron “paints himself as an innocent bystander” (quite a good line, that) and said he should halt the VAT increase and the spending cuts. Cameron said he was not a bystander – listing all the things he is doing and all the good bits of economic news.

But Miliband had already pulled the rug from under Cameron by turning rapidly to the NHS – asking if the coalition would break its “guarantee” that NHS spending would go up in real terms of each year of this parliament. No, said Cameron.

Miliband made the very effective point that the Commons health committee has said: “the Government’s commitment to a real terms increase in health funding…will not be met.”. Miliband threw in a quip about David Cameron’s airbrushed poster photo – “he’s good at the airbrush”. He’d got Cameron, really. Cameron had to resort to throwing in a quote from Alan Johnson. Always a good standby.

Miliband also said that the government has broken its pledge to “stop the top-down reorganisations of the NHS” through the changes to doctor’s responsibilities. Cameron retorted that the government is not reorganising, it is cutting – bureaucracy.

Miliband was throwing everything at PMQs today. He must feel he is on the ropes. Next he turned to students. Why not? “I know that he (the PM) does not talk to students, or only to those in China”. Gor blimey, there’s been plenty of midnight oil burned Chez Miliband.

The Educational Maintenance Allowance was the next Milisalvo. Cameron said that support needed to be better targetted and claimed Miliband had not supported one suggestion to “dig the country out of the pit of debt” – which I doubt is true.

We then got Miliband’s parting salvo: “The promise on NHS spending—broken; the promise on the education maintenance allowance—broken; the promise on universal child benefit—broken; the promise on knife crime—broken; and the promise on new politics—broken.”

It was good stuff, if a trifle forced. And Cameron retorted with his prepared zinger: “Labour started the year with a leader who was dithering and had no answers on the economy and it has ended the year with a leader who is dithering and has no answers on the economy. I suppose, in Labour terms, that is what passes for progress.”

Other snippets were:

  • The first item on the Commons agenda today was “The Coronation of the Virgin”. This somewhat bemused me, until I realised that this refers to a work of art.
  • Iain Stewart (Conservative) mentioned the campaign to save the papers of Alan Turing for the nation.
  • Lewisham featured heavily. Both its MPs asked questions: about the area’s high unemployment and council cuts. Joan Ruddock interestingly compared the survival of the JobCentrePlus in Cameron’s Witney with the closure of the one in Deptford, an area of high unemployment.
  • John McDonnell (Labour) pointed out that children of asylum seekers will probably be in detention this Christmas. Cameron replied saying that the Cleggster will make a statement about this tomorrow.
  • Oh dear! Stomach hurts! David Lammy (Labour) asked about Spurs’ future home. Cameron replied drily saying “My recent experience has taught me to stay out of international football management”.
  • Malcolm Bruce (Liberal Democrat) pointed out that Royal Mail workers continue deliveries through the snow in Scotland while many direct delivery companies have chickened out at this vital time.
  • Chris Ruane (Labour) said it was outrageous that the LibDems may call an election at Oldham East and Saddleworth for January 13th. Cameron answered that energetically: “why should the people of that constituency put up with not having a Member of Parliament, and what have you lot got to be frightened of?”
  • It seems that quite a few Northern Irish members of parliament (led by Dr Alasdair McDonnell SDLP) are very keen on the UK helping Ireland out, because of the intertwined nature of the economies, north and south on the Emerald Isle.
  • David Cameron confirmed that the government will give money to the Auschwitz-Birkenau restoration fund.
  • Ronnie Campbell, in a questionless question, accused the government of building up a £50 billion war chest for the next election – taking it from the hands of hard working families. This non-question received a non-answer – naturellement.
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  • I thought Ed Miliband performed strongly, as he has in most PMQs apart from one a couple of weeks ago. Cameron sounded petulant and evasive.

    As for being “on the ropes”, Labour has actually bounced back pretty quickly from its election defeat. IIRC, at a similar point in 1997 after THEIR election defeat, the Tories were still 20 points adrift in the polls.

  • “Malcolm Bruce (Liberal Democrat) pointed out that Royal Mail workers continue deliveries through the snow in Scotland while many direct delivery companies have chickened out at this vital time.”

    This is a very good point – and its something I noticed last winter when we had three weeks of snow and freezing temperatures. Royal Mail service was hardly affected. The various delivery companies seemed to struggle: many of their deliveries were subsequently made by a-man-with-a-van. I prefer the Royal Mail service. Its much better.

  • Eric Pickles is Mr Bumble, all the pantomime villains reside on the government benches, you really couldn’t make it up, Dickens would have had a field day with this lot.

  • Millions unemployed, agonising war in Afghanistan, protesting students being threatened with water cannons, massive debt and a Lib Dem blogger decides the best response is a patronising unfunny article that contains not one single useful comment. As someone who has voted Lib Dem in the past, I am convinced that the Lib Dems are now finished. They have nothing left. The future will be Labour v. Tory with the various fringe parties mopping up the rest of the votes.

  • Labour are not good at dropping duds, mainly because they have so many.
    Having said that don’t see Ted Miliband making it to the next election. Balls and co will have to engineer his departure long before then.

  • Has to be said, this weekly roundup is becoming less and less balanced by the week. I’ve followed the last few PMQs in full and have regularly found myself wondering if I’ve watched a repeat or some red button alternative because my experience never matches the description here.

  • TheContinentalOp 16th Dec '10 - 8:45am

    Milliband was good this week. Cameron was typically evasive and looked rattled. Even his chief cheerleader Clegg couldn’t muster much support for his master.

    The reason Milliband threw so many punches was not because he was on the ropes but because your Government has given him so many targets.

  • Ref JohnM
    “but by rights, if politics isn’t the same as rewarding an abuser as an upstanding member of the community, Labour shouldn’t benefit from such a legacy should it – the causes nor through the unpopularity of the remedy.”

    By that logic, the Tory party should never hold government again. I remember the Tory recession of the early 1990’s. It was awful and the lives of many of my contemporaries are still blighted by it. That’s why the sight of LibDem politicians shoreing up a minority Tory government is so nauseating. I am not a supporter of New Labour but I am certainly not foolish enough to blame them entirely for the banking crisis or the recession. Can you guarantee that a recession will never happen under the ConDem coalition? I think the LibDem party is finished and the opinion polls indicate the same. The LibDems have never had a natural constituency in England and survived by picking up votes from the young, from students, from the poor who felt let down by Labour. If those people have decided to stop voting LibDem then the LibDem leadership have only themselves to blame. The electorate will always choose to support those politicians who they feel will offer them the most. “Justice”, “Legacy” and “Reward” simply do not come into it.

  • Ed Miliband is not good at all at PMQs. He has not won a single one of these contests. Even last week, I wouldn’t say Ed won it rather Cameron lost it. The fact that 3 months into his election, people are already questioning his performance and saying that he’s not up to the job is rather worrying. In the recent MORI poll, his leadership satisfaction ratings are marginally better than Michael Foot and worse than IDS this far into their leadership (and we know what happened to them). Hearing Neil Kinnock claim “we’ve got our party back” upon Ed’s election just proves that Ed was the anti-New Labour candidate, and is likely to return to Labour its pre-New Labour electoral success i.e. none!

    The Labour Party (or should I say the trade unions) have made a decision they will live to regret IMO if Miliband fights the general election as Labour Leader. They need to cnange him ASAP. He’s only 40 and has only been a MP for 5 years! He’s hardly experienced to do the potential job of Prime Minister. They should have elected David Miliband to be honest, and I think deep down many many Labour MPs know that. I do wonder what will happen in terms of the relationship between the two brothers if Ed does sink and is gotten rid off, and his contribution to history is the guy who prevented his big brother from ever having the opportunity of being the PM.

  • “He’s only 40 and has only been a MP for 5 years! He’s hardly experienced to do the potential job of Prime Minister.”

    Chigsee, perhaps you could remind us how old Cameron was and how long he’d been in Parliament when he became Tory leader??

  • Chigsee, perhaps you could remind us how old Cameron was and how long he’d been in Parliament when he became Tory leader??

    Very true, and I seem to remember that a lot of people questioned his ability for a good while after his election. On the other hand I hope that Cameron isnt the role model. There is something about Cameron that makes me disbelieve every word that comes out of his mouth. Even which football team he supports.

  • @Paul Walter
    “Unless you would like me to read all the other reviews first and sort of digest them and regurgitate other people’s views?”

    No thank you. Please continue normally..

  • I think it’s very interesting watching Cameron at PMQs and it’s clear that the incidence of his ‘arrogance flashes’ are growing. Would love to hear a body language expert’s take on it. Various different things seem to set him off but one should never underestimate the strain of the job and I am beginning to wonder how long it will be before it grinds him down.

    There’s no doubt in my mind that a lot of LP ministers didn’t want involved in a coalition because they were worn-out after so long in power. I think that really becomes a huge issue once you go beyond one term in office and it’s one of the reason I think that 4-yearly election cycles are better although I accept there are all sorts of other factors.

    Cameron’s big weakness is that he plays to the gallery and always wants to show he’s cleverer than anyone else. His sneering arrogance might find favour with some of his bank-benchers and coalition partners but I think the British public are well able to see that he never answers a question – all you get is slapstick comedy. It’s the thing that the public hate most about politicians that they never get a straight answer.

    One of the major reasons that Clegg has destroyed the LibDem Party with a lot of voters – they actually believed his personal pledge that politics would be different with him and his party. It isn’t and he sits beside Cameron at PMQs with a simpering smile and often seemingly lost in a dreamworld. I’m not getting at Clegg but he seems so detached a lot of the time that I wonder just how robust he actually is. Again, as with so much, time will tell.

    The other thing that a lot of ordinary people I speak to, who aren’t political activists, worry about the amount of change to just about every institution we have and the pace it is being driven with. Even the extension yo this initial Parly session is feeding this frenzy and it’s very clear that a lot of the legislation hasn’t had the nuts and bolts added.

    However it’s all early days in the grand scheme of things and I have in recent years realised just how different and more accurate the historical perspective of current events actually is. I doubt if I will still be around in 20 years to read that analysis but I am sure it will make interesting reading and I very much doubt that it will hold that the LP caused the entire global economic crisis as some of its detractors keep repeating. The LP did a lot of good things in power and when this government passes then it will be interesting to put its record against previous LP achievements and make the comparison.

  • @ Paul Walter who said of Milliband: ‘Next he turned to students. Why not? “I know that he (the PM) does not talk to students, or only to those in China”. Gor blimey, there’s been plenty of midnight oil burned Chez Miliband.’

    I watched Cameron on his visit to China telling students the tuition fees increase would make it easier for them to study at English Unis because it would now be cheaper for them.

    I was quite mystified by this argument in favour of a tuition fee hike as I have never heard it made anywhere in the UK by Cable or any of his team or anyone in the coalition. I didn’t hear any of those I have mentioned raise it later in the Commons or Lords tuition fees debates although the Labour front bench mentioned it in the Commons debate.

    I think it is a very important point as I think few voters, let alone students, would agreed that English students should have fees tripled to make it easier financially for foreign students to study in English Universities. I also have searched in vain for any government statement or stats on the matter and wonder what Cable thinks of it.

    Paul, it’s your piece and I usually quite enjoy your ‘take’ but Milliband is right to be burning the midnight oil on issues like this which are so important and worrying to students and their families from such a wide swathe of the electorate, excluding the very rich.

    As to Milliband. I have a quiet smile when I see all the posts about how useless he is and how he’ll never win a GE and how he needs to be replaced. If those were genuine views then you should be pleading with the LP to keep him in place so that perhaps you can get to join another coalition in 5 years.

    However, most unbiased political observers can see that Milliband has a lot to offer and I would say that in the coming months as the cuts start to bite then he will have the chance to grow in stature and provide a beacon of hope. I think he will be good for the LP and I think he will actually have an effect on how the party operates and thinks and how it reflects and empowers the aspirations of its voters. I also happen to think that he might actually have a strong enough character to provide that ‘new politics’ which is so elusive and has left a bitter harvest of broken promises from many politicians and most recently Clegg and Cameron.

    I do believe that the LP will see the return of a lot of voters who left them for the LibDems at the last election as well as a lot of former LibDem voters as well as activists and a new generation of students and others who will be radicalised through the effects of the cuts and Tory ideology.

  • If Ed Miliband is doing so badly why is it that he only has to question a Lib Dem Con policy at PMQs and the major broadcasters and T.V. news bulletins pick it up and run with it? The fact is that Cameron uses a meat axe and Ed uses a scalpel. And what is so wonderful is that Ed always knows how to press the right button to get Cameron’s goat. To an old socialist such as myself there is no better sight than Cameron angry, red in the face, descending to personal insult and bluster having been asked a perfectly reasonable question, which of course, he hasn’t the mastery of detail to answer.

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