Cameron was dogged, impatient, sometimes exasperated but he masked his impatience with a few decent quips. After the first softball query from a Labour poodle, Cameron observed, ‘Welcome to Prime Minister’s planted questions.’ He mocked Labour’s attempts to hang the ‘Mr Ten Percent’ tag around Andrew Lansley. ‘Some Labour MPs were confused,' he said, 'They thought it meant the Prime Minister’s opinion poll ratings.’ In response to Cameron’s interrogation the PM blithely assert that Cameron had no figures. Cameron offered figures. Treasury figures. ‘Capital spending is going from £44 bn to £20 bn.’ Still Brown told us Cameron had no figures. It’s hard to reason against this deaf-dumb-and-blind approach. Brown doesn’t just lie to the House and the country. He lies to himself too.
Cameron had an awkward moment when he mentioned that the recession had spread across Europe. Inexplicably, this prompted two minutes of Labour jeers and the Tory leader looked uneasy, bobbing and dipping at the despatch box while the Speaker tried to shut the hecklers up. Eventually Cameron collected his thoughts and fired another barb PM-wards. ‘They cheer him on Wednesday and spend the rest of the week trying to get rid of him.’
Nick Clegg again disappointed his new-won band of admirers by choosing yesterday’s issue (bank regulation) and fluffing it. He accused Labour of ‘trying to have it both ways,’ a slur which was bound to boomerang back in his face. As Labour cheered derisively he blamed the PM for ‘passing the buck.’ Dull stuff. Even Brown squeezed out a half-quip at his expense. ‘I think he actually supports what we’re doing but can’t bear to say it.’
Labour's own Mr Ten Percent, Mark Hendrick, MP for Preston, fretted about the effect of lowering spending by a tenth in his constituency. Unsurprisingly Brown shared his concerns and predicted that the move would result in ‘a cut of 15,000 police officers.’ Gosh. Are there are 150,000 coppers up there already? Perhaps two of them could come South and arrest Brown for dishonesty.
This was a PMQs of evasions, obfuscations, orchestrated propaganda and wilful denials of reality. Labour certainly showed plenty of discipline and gave the appearance of unity and cohesion. They’ve lost none of their appetite for a dust-up, and even if they lose the next election the struggle will be heroic, bloody and glorious to behold. One thing Labour can always organise is a romantic defeat. It’ll go to the wire and the battleground will narrow to a handful of words. ‘Ten percent Tory cuts.’ The plan is to spook the electorate with fiscal terror tactics. It worked for John Major in 1992. The difference is that Cameron is not Neil Kinnock.