PMQs: Vince v Gordon

As the party’s acting leader, it was Vince Cable’s turn to put the questions to the Prime Minister at this week’s pointless half-hour of theatrical nonsense. You can watch the exchange here.

Here’s the transcript:

Dr. Cable: Does the Prime Minister agree with the comments of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury that there is a moral case for rewarding marriage through the tax system?

The Prime Minister: May I first of all say—and I think I speak for the whole House—that we send our best wishes to the former leader of the Liberal party, who is a distinguished parliamentarian? He is a man of integrity, he is a man of honesty and he is a man of decency. Let me welcome the shadow Chancellor of the Liberal party to his position as temporary leader of the Liberal party. If things go on in this Parliament at this rate of change, every single Liberal Member will have the chance to be leader of the Liberal party.
As far as the tax issues are concerned, it is because we recognise marriage in the tax system that we have made the changes that we have on inheritance tax; it is because we recognise marriage in the tax system that—[Interruption.] It is only possible because we recognise marriage in the tax system. But as far as children’s tax credits and child benefit are concerned, I believe that the duty of every citizen of this country is to support not just some children in our country, but all children.

Dr. Cable: I thank the Prime Minister for his gracious comments and for his welcome.
Both of us are happily married men, but why has the right hon. Gentleman crafted an inheritance tax system that discriminates against millions of unmarried couples and their children? And why is he lining up with the Tories to defend the principle that these families should not merely be condemned to the everlasting flames of hell, but should be taxed more on the way?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for letting me into the secrets of his marriage. It has always been the case that marriage is recognised in the inheritance tax system. I have not seen him making very detailed proposals to change that in recent years. As far as inheritance tax is concerned, if we took up his proposal and extended it to everyone, that would be a very great additional expense. I do not know how Liberal party policies would be able to cope with yet another spending commitment, because in the last few days we have had commitments to a border police force, high-speed rail links, more money to Visit Britain and reducing VAT on historic buildings—£18 billion of spending commitments in all. The most recent one that I want to draw attention to is more investment in bullying prevention; perhaps they should look at that as a party.

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This entry was posted in News and PMQs.


  • I do like the Hell reference in the second question. We must see more of this: challenging the moralising of the other two parties. I am sure that there are lots of voters out there who do not realise just how preachy those two parties are.

  • Martin Land 17th Oct '07 - 6:47pm

    God bless you Stuart

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 17th Oct '07 - 6:49pm

    Intersting that Brown consistently refers to us as “the Liberal Party”. It’s as if he has a psychological block to saying the word “democrats”.

  • Its not only the Labour Party that calls us “Liberals”, the Tories do it too. I think they do because they think it winds us up.

    Speaking personally, it does – but I guess we just have to grit our teeth, correct them if possible and keep on getting our message across.

  • It doesn’t wind me up in the l east, but it’s hard to take someone seriously if they cannot even be bothered to get the name of their opponents right.

  • Bunnies Can and Will Go to France 17th Oct '07 - 10:01pm

    Why are you called “Liberal Democrats”? There’s nothing “liberal” about you and your ambition of holding the balance of power, so that you with your pathetic 11% of the vote can manipulate two far better supported parties who got the other 89%, shows you aren’t democrats either.

    What about changing your name to “Eco-fascist self-righteous backstabbing pipsqueak weirdo faction?

    You don’t really deserve to be dignified by the term “party”, but “ESBPWF” would suit you down to the ground. Every time someone spluttered it, we’d all be reminded of what foam-flecked loonies you all are.

    Hope that helps.

  • Dear Bunnies,

    “foam-flecked loonies”

    Been looking in a mirror mate?

  • Geoffrey Payne 17th Oct '07 - 10:22pm

    Charlotte, before the SDP burst on the scene the Liberal party was a left of centre party inspired by Keynes and Beveridge. In the 1970s Fritz Schumaker (Small is Beautiful) also had a big impact on the party, causing it to be Green before anyone else. Simon Hughes came from that wing of the party, hence his reputation for being on the left.
    Mrs Thatcher’s admiration for the economics of Hayek and Friedman, combined with her harsh rhetoric had the effect of motivating the Liberal party away from neo-liberal economics almost completely.
    I often read of this SDP – left, Liberal – right divide. That is simply an error in historical understanding. When I joined the Liberals in 1983, almost everyone read the Guardian, which in those days was a left wing newspaper.
    The SDP started on the left under Roy Jenkins, but shifted to the right under David Owen. When David Owen’s “continuing SDP” disbanded, many of them joined the Tories, the Times columnist Danny Finkelstein is noticably one of them.

  • I think it’s great that the Labour and Tories are calling Liberal Democrats “Liberals”. It’s short and pithy and pleases my ear much more than the longer form “Liberal Democrats”, or the unfortunate abbreviation “Lib Dems”. Couldn’t the party officially shorten its name to “Liberals” or “Liberal Party”?

    Though that might require reunification with the continuation Liberal Party. Perhaps Michael Meadowcroft could help there?

  • Geoffrey Payne wrote: “When David Owen’s “continuing SDP” disbanded, many of them joined the Tories, the Times columnist Danny Finkelstein is noticably one of them.”

    A few joined the Tories. Others joined the Labour Party, some joined the Liberal Democrats, while many more drifted away from politics altogether.

    Owen was a right-winger and an admirer of Mrs Thatcher, but do remember that when he stood against Roy Jenkins for the leadership in 1982 he marketed himself as the “left” candidate who wanted to give the party a “radical cutting edge”.

    Not all Owenites were right-wing. Some were traditional tax-and-spend social democrats who regarded the decentralising Liberal Party as ideologically incompatible. To Sue Slipman, the likes of Tony Greaves and Michael Meadowcroft were “anarcho-syndicalists”.

    And by the same token, many Liberals were rather firmly on the right. Remember Roger Pincham of the School of Economic Science, who was allowed to become party President? Called himself a “radical traditionalist” and was well to the right on almost every issue? And I don’t think David Austick was a raging lefty. Or Cyril Smith for that matter (pro- hanging and flogging).

  • Geoffrey Payne 18th Oct '07 - 9:08am

    When Owen became leader of the SDP he seemed more interested in defining his opinions in opposition to the Liberal party rather than having any consistent opinions of his own, even to the extent of becoming a Euro-sceptic, something the SDP was orginally fighting against. I had to laugh when I found his latest book is on hubris!
    The Liberal party has never been monolithic, and I hope it never will be. Even the Labour party contained right wingers, the likes of Frank Chapelle and Robert Maxwell.

  • Bonkalot Jones 18th Oct '07 - 9:22am

    Have you folks any idea how asinine this arguing over the word ‘democrats’ is ? I used to work for Lloyds Bank which merged with TSB. Many people in the press would still refer to it as ‘Lloyds’.. and it would wind up the ‘grim oop north’ TSB working class thickies a treat..

    And the soft southern nonces in the marketing department would whinge to the paper that it was ‘off-message and contaminating our brand’ or some other bo!!*cks.

    Which led to much bemusement to a Welshman such as myself..

    Lighten up kids – at least people who use ‘Liberal’ without the ‘Democrats’ are at least talking about you, and as Oscar Wilde suggested, not being talked about would be even worse.

    I mean, even Abbey National could only hold out for so long against people who referred to it as the ‘Abbey’. Mind you, when they gave in they got taken over by the Spaniards and are soon to be called ‘Santander’.

    So maybe you guys aren’t as stupid as you seem
    – after all you haven’t yet been as foolish as to elect a European to be your leader..oh, hang on…

  • passing tory 18th Oct '07 - 10:17am

    well, I know quite a few LibDems who insist on calling Conservatives “Tories” specifically because they’ve heard it winds us up. Personally, being a liberal kinda chap I don’t care too much , but it does strike me as slightly hypocritical to complain about what others call you under these circumstances.

  • Bonkalot Jones 18th Oct '07 - 10:57am

    Stephen Tall – “I think you’ll find that both Gordon Brown and David Cameron are Europeans. ”

    It is that sort of Lib Dem twattery which will ensure that you will never get anywhere close to the levers of power. Do you tell your wife that you are going to Europe for the weekend when off on one of your political jollies somewhere ‘grim up north’ ?

  • Bonkalot Jones 18th Oct '07 - 11:08am

    Stephen, If you will permit be to be slightly serious for a moment.. I did actually vote for the Lib Dems at the last election [no, this isn’t the lead up to a punchline] because of their anti war stand. I couldn’t on principle vote for any of the other parties.

    What I really despair about with the Lib Dems is that failure to really answer the question ‘What are they for ?’ I followed the progress of the Welsh Assembly Government elections and had, I’m afraid, little or no idea what their policies really were [or are] these days.

    Most galling of all, they didn’t seem to be able to have a settled policy beforehand, or even be able to decide after the election, on whether they even wanted to be in power, and with whom. Astonishing. If they are just a rag bag coalition of interest groups [as shown by the ‘We’re not Libs we are Liberal Democrats], then how, in heaven’s name, can you expect people to vote for you ?

    Whoever you elect as your leader really has to address that most important question of ‘Whither the Lib Dems’ with a rather serious level of urgency, otherwise you might find that ‘Bottler Brown’ suddenly, for the first time in this life, makes an impulsive decision to to to the country in the spring, and your Parliamentary party will be not decimated, but hung, drawn and cut in half…

  • Bonkalot Jones 18th Oct '07 - 11:41am

    Alix, I’m not going to come back with a ‘I know all that’, because a lot of it I don’t, as the Lib Dems do seem to vacillate a lot, often on the same topic.. As an example..

    “the Lib Dems are for devolution of power to local government and promotion of community politics..”

    Which begs the question from me, why aren’t they more in tune with Tony Benn’s antithesis to the totally anti-democratic European Union, with its decisions made by un-elected Commission EUrocrats…

    “A more top-down, on-message, toe-the-line party wouldn’t be the Lib Dems.” Again, this runs totally counter to handing over yet more power to the ultimate ‘top down, toe-the-line’ organisation, the European Union.

    I appreciate your point about carbon neutrality and taxing income, but I just make the point that achieving this without a ‘top-down’ central statist approach seems very unlikely.

    So when I take a circumspect view of some of the policies and beliefs you have enunciated, I am forced to come to the conclusion that many of them seem contradictory oyxmorons which have no sound grounding in pragmatically implementable strategy. And I’m sorry to say I don’t believe I’m alone in that view.

    Off the top of my head I have no idea where you stand on Nuclear Power. That may well be down to the fact I’ve been asleep – but you may be on the ‘Greenpeace’ wing or the ‘Lovelock’ wing for all I know.

    I appreciate that you will not get the media coverage you deserve until the General Election, but in the mean time should not more of your merry band of brigands be spreading the message via the blogosphere ?????

  • passing tory 18th Oct '07 - 11:54am


    I think you have hit the nail on the head. I looked very carefully at both the LibDems and the Tories before signing up to a party and came to the conclusion that the liberal wing of the Conservative party has a much better grasp of what individual freedom actually means than the Lib Dems. I may not see eye-to-eye with some of “social conservative” Tories but I see far more merit in them than the “state-centric” LibDem policies that seek to impose their values on the rest of us via central government.

  • Grammar Police 18th Oct '07 - 12:23pm

    I’m sorry, Bonkalot, but the examples you give are not oxymorons. Believing that it’s appropriate for a number of decisions to be made by supranational bodies, such as the EU, doesn’t necessarily mean supporting the way the EU currently works (and actually, your stuff about the Commission is eurosceptic claptrap – the Commission “does what it says on the tin” ie it puts into effect the objectives set out in the Treaties, it initiates the legislation to meet the objectives agreed by the Member States; the Council, in its varying forms can block or amend legislation, and the Parliament can, depending on the type of legislation, block, delay or reject the legislation. The whole system forces compromise between the three bodies). I would say the Lib Dems are for the exercise of power where it’s most appropriate – which often means the lower the better, but does sometimes mean higher up too (why we support EU, UN, international law, as well as devolution to local and regional govt).

    Your taxing point is not an our oxymoron either: we all accept that central government most effectively fulfils some roles, and needs funding. We would rather cut national income tax for lower earners, but we also believe that more taxation should be raised locally. We are attempting to steer the course on achieving carbon neutrality without a top-down statist approach by using the tax system/market to change behaviours without just banning things outright!

    Passing Tory, the Tories I know tend to have a very negative view of individual freedom, that one has no real responsibilities to the vulnerable and less fortunate, and that the state has a merely managerial role. Most Lib Dems accept a more progressive approach to individual freedom – that the state has an enabling role, helping people to help themselves.

  • passing tory 18th Oct '07 - 12:41pm


    Your statement that “The Commission has a role in proposing new legislation, and to some extent in implementing decisions once made, but decision-making clearly lies with the Council and EP.” is disingenuous to say the least. The EP does not have legislative initiative. That role lies with the unelected (in any meaningful sense) Comission.

    Or, put this another way. Can you tell me which EU directives from the last two years originated in the EP, Council and Comission respectively.

    Now, I am one of the younger generation who feels pretty much at home in Rome or Berlin as Glasgow or Edinburgh but even I can see the huge problem with the EU _as_currently_implemented_.

  • Grammar Police 18th Oct '07 - 12:48pm

    Passing Tory, it’s the job of the Commission to propose and implent legislation to meet the objectives as set out in the Treaties (which the member states agree). The Council and EP block and/or amend the legislation and so the power does lie with them – Jeremy is not being disingenuous.

  • passing tory 18th Oct '07 - 12:54pm

    Mr Grammar Police,

    Well, either you don’t know very many Tories or you go out of your way to meet the few that meet you prejudices or you just haven’t stopped to think about the problem deeply enough.

    The crunch is what you mean by progressive. The guys I work with (politically speaking) are all extremely committed to working towards a system where indivudals help those around them. “Local progression” if you like. They are equally strongly against “state implemented progression”, which seems to be what the Lib Dems favour (i.e. an emphasis on tax-and-spend).

    In very simple terms I use the story of the man by the river who can either feed a hungry stranger by catching him a fish and giving it to him or by teaching him how to fish. They are both progressive approaches but the tendency for the the Tories seems to be towards the latter which the Lib Dems (and Gordon Brown) seem to prefer the former (and of course calling the Tories wicked for not handing out fish)

  • Passing Tory, you have missed out the most unwieldy component of the EU edifice – the European Court of Justice.

    The ECJ is a Napoleonic court that has arrogated to itself the power to redraft Community legislation as it sees fit and to dispense palm tree justice.

    It is the ECJ, not the Commission, that formulated the doctrines of Supremacy and Direct Effect – neither of which had any Treaty basis, express or implied.

    The ECJ rarely hears submissions from counsel of more than 20 minutes duration, and its judgments generally fit on to a piece of Basildon Bond writing paper.

    As Ian Hislop would say – if this is justice, I’m a banana.

  • passing tory 18th Oct '07 - 12:59pm

    Oh Mr Grammar Police,

    You are way too naive. So you think that because the House of Lords has a scrutinising and ammeding role in the UK system that “the” decision making power lies with them? “Some” decision making power, maybe. But are you really telling me that MEPs feel that they have significant control over the system?

  • Grammar Police 18th Oct '07 - 1:33pm

    I don’t really need to add anything to Jeremy’s reply, but on the subject of naivety about the creation of legislation in the EU . . . I’m not saying its perfect, I’m just pointing out that the representatives of the Member States through their ministers on the Council have most of the say in EU legislation. The Commission can initiate legislation, but it can’t force it through (unlike the Government through the House of Commons in Britain). If the Council doesn’t support the legislation it won’t happen. Similarly, the EP can block or delay the legislation, and (unlike our own parliament) is not controlled by one party and sometimes certain specified majorities are needed – so the Council often has to compromise/amend etc to get it through the EP.

    The real naivety here is imagining that the only power in a legislature/legislation-making process lies with the power to initiate legislation.

    To come back on you fish cliche – you can give a man fish or you can teach him to fish, and I think most Lib Dems would agree on the latter. However, who’s going to do the teaching?! Would it be so wrong for the State do it sometimes, especially if the alternative is just expecting someone else to do it without thinking through who that person is!
    I have nothing against Tories: many of the ones I know genuinely want to do something to improve their communities, they just believe that there’s never really a justification to help the less well-off using the State.

  • passing tory 18th Oct '07 - 2:14pm

    I would have thought that I made it fairly clear by emphasising “some” of the power that I don’t think that all the power in the EU rests anywhere. But neither do I think that a statement along the lines of “the decsision making rests with the EP/Council” really represents the way that legislation develops de facto. [leaving aside the implciations of the new constitution in this, of course]

    Back to the fish; I agree that I would expect the Lib Dems to want to do the latter but in reality I don’t see their/your policies taking us there. After all, Lenin reckoned/hoped that central governement in Russia would slowly dissolve, giving way to local decision making, and look what happened there.

    I think that the bottom line is that if you take social equality as a central tennet (as many LibDems I have met do) then you tend to have to try to develop a system to regulate and force this. Whatever localist tendencies you might start off with, the mechanism for ensuring equality inevitably results in a large centralised structure and all the problems associated with state socialism.

    Which is not to say I don’t believe in equalising opportunity, but that I think that by trying to force it you end up perverting the system.

    And we see this dilemma today. Let local health authorities decide their own priorities and you get a system which people accuse of being a “post code lottery”. So central government steps in because it would obviously be unfair for some people to have treatment that others don’t have available to them 🙂

  • passing tory 18th Oct '07 - 2:39pm

    Oh, sorry Alix missed out your question about revising bodies. I don’t know where you got the idea that I think that revising and scrutinising bodies are not important. Of course they are. And of course they have a role in decision making. But it is equally ridiculous to pretend that it is a lead role. It is not. And yes, the Lords discussions are frequently far more interesting and informative than what goes on in the Commons (not that I would be sad enough to read Hansard, oh no no no [ahem :)])

  • Oh all this stuff and nonsense about names.
    I vote that we always refer to Tories as Conservative & Unionists. And that they merge with the National Trust for Scotland.

  • Bonkalot Jones 18th Oct '07 - 11:26pm

    Gnome Watch – now that IS funny !!!!

    As for earlier posts about Europe – We could argue the toss about that all night, and that you guys want it to run more democratically, and that it contains ‘checks and balances’ – my own view is that it just is not giving ‘we the people’ the input to democratically shape what is decided, and to reject what we don’t like.

    As for the point about nuclear power; I think you’ve missed my complaint. You may well have a democratically agreed policy on opposing nuclear power is all well and good – but if I, as a reasonably interested man-in-the-street don’t know what it is; well by all means blame my ignorance, rather than your inability to fully advertise your policies. But that will do you little good come the General Election.

    Nighty night !!!

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