A day ahead of the local elections, Cameron could and should have picked a doorstep issue. Instead he went on the case for 42 day detention without trial. Brown seemed quite optimistic about it. When he was defending it, I fancied I caught a glimpse of the Blair strategy – when under fire, run into the fire. Given that everyone thinks this vote is already lost, it is – dare I say – rather brave to go on about it so much. Either that or he’s deluded.
Cameron repeatedly tried to ask Brown if 42 days would be a confidence issue (word is that Brown has decided just to lose the vote, like Blair did over 90 days). Brown understandably dodged the issue. Cameron had plenty of good points, made with ease. But for whatever reason (he was moaning only yesterday that he’d failed to get away from punch-and-judy politics) he let it descend into a rather lifeless exchange.
Brown tried a few insults – they work because they are so heartfelt, Cameron is a “shallow salesman” who “never addresses the substance of the issues” (you can almost hear him say the same about the electorate). When Nick Clegg did his usual unconvincing Angry Man impression – going on poverty and post offices – Brown responded by borrowing Chris Huhne’s Calamity Clegg jibe. I’m sure I heard the word “Cleggover” shouted somewhere, but could be wrong.
Oh – and yet another evolution in that monstrous whopper about Child Poverty. As I noted earlier, only 600,000 have been “lifted out of poverty” even by Labour’s weird definition and yet Brown claims a million have been. But today he said he is “on the road” to taking a million children out of poverty. In the same way, I suppose, that the Soviets were on the road to full communism and Venice is on the road to sinking. It’s so much better to travel hopefully. Or perhaps he means “we’re busy furiously fiddling the figures, which is why the DWP child poverty figures are delayed by so many weeks.”
Anyway, Brown will have a good lunch today, for perhaps the first time since PMQs started. Cameron could have had a few pre-election headlines out of this, or TV news footage of Brown looking dodgy. Instead, we have perhaps the first ever PMQs footage that will not be instantly deleted from the Browns’ Sky+.
PS Iain Dale (and about a dozen CoffeeHousers) suggests I’m being too kind on our Dear Leader. Iain gives Cameron 8, Brown 6 and Clegg 4. I’d disagree only in that I don’t think anyone did that well – I’d give Cameron 6.5, Brown 5 and Clegg 4. Any normal person can see any PMQs nowadays and think Cameron came out on top – unlike the Blair days where it was an even match. Cameron will always win: he can talk, he can ad lib, he can make jokes. Brown is happier behind a book. The problem reviewing this battle is that you have to judge each by their own standards – hence my point about Dr Johnson’s dog. Normally one watches Brown at PMQs and cringes: it’s so painful it hurts. All I’m saying is that today, in my view, was not one of those days.