Fraser Nelson

Brownies galore at PMQs

Brownies galore at PMQs
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My, what a lot of Brownies. I can only assume today’s PMQs was one of those weird things, where no two people can agree. Many of my colleagues in the press gallery thought it was dull. I was riveted. Cameron was taking Brown on home turf and having him resort to his litany of fake facts. Cameron was full of unscripted remarks, showing fluency and confidence. Sure, his gags weren’t roof-raisers, but it’s like Dr Johnson’s dog with improvised lines at PMQs. It’s not that improvisation is done well, it that it’s done at all. You could almost feel the two men’s contempt for each other. Brown dismissing Cameron as man who can’t do his arithmetic and Cameron responding that one duff PM plus one duff Chancellor equals one mammoth economic mess.

Remember, the Tory strategy is to have Brown say “inflation? What inflation?” and say to the public “look, he doesn’t understand or feel your pain. We do.” But inflation was by no means the only Brownie on display today. Here’s a quick Fisk of some other “facts.”

1) Repossessions were just 27,000 last year, against 200,000 in the first two years of the 1990s. Nick Clegg’s right: repossession is emphatically back. It is forecast by RICS to jump to 45,000 this year, a figure likely to be revised upwards – the highest since 1992. At this rate, they will next year surpass their peak under the Tories. Now is not the time for Brown to say “What repossessions?"

2) Unemployment is 8% in Germany, 8% in France – the UK has unemployment “half the rate of our European partners.” Huh? This is his “metric switch” con again. This only works if you compare the ILO count of France and Germany to the UK claimant count of 2.5%. The latest Eurostat figures show 7.1% Euro area unemployment with the UK on 5.1%, all on ILO basis. Since when was five half of seven?

3) Inflation is 2.5% in the UK, 4% in the US and 3% in Europe. A favourite trick. The US calculates inflation in a different way (ie, in urban areas only) incomparable to our CPI (as an extensive US Statistics Bureau paper says). As for the Euro v UK inflation, I refer y’all to Brownie No1 here.

4) Inflation was 10% under the Tories. Yes RPI was, for three months in 1990. This has never been true for CPI, to which Brown referred to in generating his 2.5% figure. An honest comparison would say that RPI was 10% for a bit and is 4.1% now.

5) Unemployment was 3m under the Tories. And is keeping 5.2m on out-of-work benefits today so much better?

6) The basic rate of income tax going is down from 22p to 20p in the pound. This is the Tax Con Budget trick again – are we really so dumb as to forget that the 10p starting rate has been abolished? It was a tax-raising budget, as everyone realised about two hours after Brown sat down for his notorious last budget.

7) Banks have gone under in Germany and America. But no one, in any nation on the planet, has a government which has lumbered its taxpayers with £110bn debt as a result. Other countries contained this within the banking system.

8) That David Cameron was an economic adviser to Norman Lamont. Untrue. Cameron was a general bag-carrier in the Treasury – emphatically not the Ed Balls figure to which Mr Brown alludes.

All the above won Brown many cheers in the house. But if anyone was watching in the country, they’d see a Callaghan-esque detachment from their concerns. This is such dangerous territory for him to be lured on to. He seems unable to shake his addiction to these Brownies, these little exaggerations, these carefully honed devices to mislead the house and the nation. And one day, people will just stop believing him.

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.

Topics in this articlePolitics