First thing’s first: Ed Miliband seems to have a new job. He now sits next to Brown making theatrical grimaces and facial expressions of mock astonishment when Tories speak. Quite fun to watch. Oxford, LSE, Harvard – and he ends up as the highest-paid mime artist in Britain.
Not Cameron’s most barnstorming performance, but I think one of his best – in that he improvised, and applied some forensic questioning to what Brown had just said rather than moving on to the next pre-prepared question. As he did so, Brown moved on to his pre-prepared answers. It was fairly clear that Brown was the one reeling off soundbites – and relying his recent technique of asking Cameron questions. And Cameron didn’t let him get away with it. “He can’t answer a question, and can’t take a decision”. Precisely the right reponse.
Cameron again chose the “dithering” attack line theme, asking how many review Brown has and quoting Charles Clarke saying “current uncertainties are widespread, debilitating and give ammunition to Labour’s opponents.” Brown hit back listing the reviews he did when taking power: cannabis and supercasinos. “This is what the British people want,” he said. What the Daily Mail wanted, more specifically. (He threw in eco-towns, actually very unpopular as Peter Luff later pointed out). And then, a propos of nothing, we hear Brown Soundbite 12b: “We-are-the-party-which-has-created-3m-new-jobs-low inflation-and-low-interest-rates”. Etc etc.
This next sentence may sound dull, but it’s important. “We are proposing additional expenditure on school building, he is proposing to transfer that money to another programme.” This is Brown’s attack line on Cameron’s plans to liberalise supply of schools. If this is the best he can do, Cameron should really get motoring on this under-promoted agenda.
Brown finished off in a mess, He claimed that he was going to give every child the “right” to education until 18 and claims that’s the “biggest change to the education system in 60 years”. In his dreams. This “right” already exists: he wants to force them to stay in school to 18.
Clegg had a new angry facial expression, and a good LibDem theme – the surveillance state and bugging MPs. “Only 1,500 intercepts have been commissioned by ministers” – only? Clegg could have hit back here. Added to the 253,000 data requests made by police and 1,088 people spied on in “error” it’s some total. All the ammo is here (pdf) from the Interception of Communications Commissioner. Clegg should memorise it, and have another go at this ripe subject next time. He must learn to do a second question on the hoof, and turning Brown’s statistics back onto him.
No PMQs next week, due to recess. Which is a good thing. I came across a copy of The Spectator from 1868 the other day and the political column opened saying “Parliament is taking a long-overdue recess. Politicians are tired, and so are the public.” Five weeks into the new year, and I fully agree.