Fraser Nelson

Brown survives PMQs

Brown survives PMQs
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I had thought it impossible to pay tribute to our servicemen in a more garbled way than Brown did last week. But Khalid Mahmood proved me wrong. He stuttered, gasped, looked at his papers. How difficult can it be to ask one question? When he sat down, I thought he'd be mortified. But he smiled broadly, and a mischievous thought struck me. Was his job to sound so breathtakingly incoherent that Gordon Brown sounds fluent?

Perhaps his trick worked, because Brown came across better than we're used to. And Cameron was not quite as good as normal, going on strikes. Brown asks what the Tory position is on reopening pay deals (left in confusion after one of Hammond's gaffes). Call an election if you want to ask questions, Cameron replied. He'd best be careful, its a good line and loses its impact if deployed too many times.

Brown had obviously been practising his sixth, final answer in the mirror, and denounced Cameron as a PR man. The Tories howled with laughter - the attack looked very weak. Brown then said he is decisive on issues the Tories duck, like nuclear power, and on issues like "3 million new houses". That will be the same 3m home target that housebuilders across Britain have derided as a laughable joke now the market is crashing. But Brown doesn't make policies for practical effect, he makes them for lines to use in PMQs.

"You can get by without substance some of the time, you can't get by without substance all of the time" was his payoff.  As he should know. 

Brian Donohue asked a planted question about what Brown would do about the Evil American Speculators jacking up petrol prices. A ha! This is the latest bogey man. Nothing to do with the collapse in sterling, then.

What Brown can do, of course, is lower the tax which accounts for 66p to the 110p a litre pump. And all the meetings in the world with what he calls the "King of Soddy Arabia" won't change a simple truth. The petrol prices are high over here because UK tax makes it high.

Clegg sported a pink tie, and tried a "more in sorrow than in anger" tone about the Gurkhas. Brown floundered, going on about those who quit after 1997. Perhaps deliberately, this mistook the point.  The people complaining are in their 70s.

Yet another planted question from Tony Lloyd on child poverty - can Brown pledge to abolish it, because no other party will? Shamelessly, Brown spoke as if poverty (even by his weird definition) is going down rather than up. Some 600,000 kids are out of "poverty", Hrown said. Funny, because he said it was one million a couple of months ago.

Written byFraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is the editor of The Spectator. He is also a columnist with The Daily Telegraph, a member of the advisory board of the Centre for Social Justice and the Centre for Policy Studies.

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