Fraser Nelson

Brownies, Balls and the Barnett Formula in PMQs

Brownies, Balls and the Barnett Formula in PMQs
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There are two PMQs: the one seen from galleries in the Commons chamber, and the one on television. The more I go to the former, the more convinced I am the best view is in the latter. Pretty much the whole press gallery jumped to its feet to see what Ed Balls was doing when Cameron teased him (he sat underneath us all). And I couldn’t see – but I imagined – Labour MPs squinting as they read out their planted questions, as if wondering at the brazenness of the text.

Anyway, from my perch, it seemed a clear win for Cameron. Not because any of his questions were knock-outs. It’s just that morale is so visibly higher amongst Tory MPs: they all cheer when Cameron makes a good point (and even a bad point), while Labour MPs are inanimate apart from a few Brownites who are so animated they almost get thrown out of the chamber.

Cameron’s high point was another put-down of Ed Balls. The Children’s Secretary is being quiet today, he said. “Good. Very good,” with mock teacher-like approval. Then, in a nod to the “so what”-gate last week, “either he had to shout more clearly or be quiet. He made the right choice.” Then there was a disturbance, which I presume was reaction to Balls’ face. He’d have hated that.

Cameron looked rather wrongfooted when he demanded if Brown would see the Dalai Lama (Miliband had been evasive on the issue), and found out that he would. So then paid Brown a compliment (of sorts): right decision, he said, and not one that would have been made any better by dithering. He then sat down: no question. There was a pause. Brown eventually replied that he always makes the right decision (I bet Blair would have had some fun in that situation). Everyone was left wondering what the point of the exchange was.

Nick Clegg must have been delighted he’d been left to champion the cause of the Ghurkhas campaigning outside. Brown has no good reason why those who served in British military uniform should not be allowed to join the 1,500 who immigrate here every day.  He looked shifty and evasive. Clegg rather overdid his angry man act after, though.

Cameron then attempted an end-of-term style roundup of unanswered questions (despite there being another two PMQs to go before recess) which didn’t really go anywhere. And when Brown asked if he was in favour of identity cards for foreign nationals, it was Cameron’s turn to dodge the question. But he did so with his Blair-in-97 style “if he wants to ask me questions, let’s have an election”. The Tory benches loved that – because, for the first time since 1978, it’s probably true. Brown closed off listing questions he would have liked to have been asked: on NHS, local government, etc. “Because they have no answers for the problems of this country.” He’d be on stronger ground if he’d provided answers himself.

A planted question against Boris: in these times of global turbulence, it’s best not to abolish the target that half houses in London should be “affordable”. Andrew “Windy” Miller praised Brown that long-term youth unemployment was down 82% in his constituency. Amazing what a bit of statistical recategorisation can do.

And then on the Barnett Formula: Brown said funding is allocated according to need. This is a new, and outrageous Brownie. The Barnett Formula is emphatically not a needs-based formula: it is a botched 1978 attempt to eradicate Scotland’s spending advantage. Botched because this year, Scotland will receive 24% more per head than England – no needs-based formula could justify this outcome. Brown knows better than anyone that the UK that a needs-based funds allocation would mean swingeing cuts for his motherland.

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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