Lloyd Evans

An atrocious performance from Brown

An atrocious performance from Brown
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A quiet, chastened, nervous House of Commons today. Like a bunch of naughty schoolboys caught wrecking the art-block and forced to clean it up. The Prime Minister, looking even more dank and grotty than usual, faltered as he recited the names of last week’s war dead from Afghanistan. By contrast Cameron’s bright, youthful demeanour served him well as he once again outclassed the PM on expenses.

Cameron suggested saving £6m by scrapping the new £10k ‘communications allowance’ for members which, he said, merely allowed MPs to tell the world how wonderful they were. The PM tried to play the lofty man of principle but he sounded feeble and indecisive. He said it was ‘open to the house’ to suggest scrapping the communications allowance when they made representations to the Kelly Committee. He hoped that Kelly would ‘report as soon as possible.’ Cameron came back hard. ‘This doesn’t go to the heart of the anger people feel’. He asked the PM how he could justify a £10k allowance during a recession. Brown sprayed repetitive platitudes in all directions. ‘It’s open to the house to look at all these things. It’s open to members to propose to change it.’ Cameron: ‘What we want is some leadership. The PM has a tin ear for these issues.’ Hearty Tory cheers.

Cameron then tossed out another crowd-pleasing proposal, to reduce the size of Parliament, which flummoxed the PM further. To accept it would make him seem weak. To reject it would look protectionist. So he referred again to the far-off verdict of Kelly and complained, ‘Today is a day for all of us to come together’. Cameron’s scornful impatience was well judged. ‘He wants an independent commission. I wonder if he needs an independent commission to decide whether to have tea or coffee in the morning.’ The only sentiment Cameron doesn’t quite capture is the frustration of the public. When voters hear politicians say ‘let’s wait for the committee’ it sounds like the death-knell of democracy. Accountability is being taken out and shot.

As a final flourish, Cameron previewed a soundbite that has the pithiness and truth of a campaign slogan. ‘How can we bring about the changes the country needs if we cannot change ourselves?’ If that’s the Tory plan, to position themselves as the voice of honest reform and to portray Labour as a backward-looking irrelevance, they’ve done some very neat footwork in the last two days. While Cameron appeals to the public, Brown appeals to his party. The PM finished by claiming, ‘I am trying to build a consensus on change,’ and expressing his sorrow that Cameron had ‘chosen to look for division’. This simply emphasised Brown’s cheap anxiety to turn the crisis to his momentary political advantage.

Nick Clegg had another good day. Avoiding Brownian circumlocutions, he spoke in ordinary language and urged the House to ‘get MPs out of the property game altogether.’ What did Brown do? Referred to Kelly. Clegg: ‘He’s making it too complicated. We are here to serve our constituents, not to make a fast buck.’ Brown’s response was another colossal blunder. Rather than addressing Clegg’s point that the House seems to be full of property developers who do a bit of politics in their spare time, the PM spoke up for ‘decent hard-working members.’ Come off it.

This was an atrocious day for Brown. He had no idea how out of touch he sounded. Only the Speaker fared worse. Bloated and knackered, looking like a crimson bull-frog, he was tetchy and uncertain in the chair. He interrupted speeches constantly and scolded members for no reason. He has spent the week digging his own grave. It’s deep enough now.