Fraser Nelson

Cameron gets all the best dividing lines in PMQs

Cameron gets all the best dividing lines in PMQs
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It’s hang-a-banker season, so David Cameron had an open goal: Sir James Crosby, the former HBOS chief who allegedly sacked a whistle-blower, and who has today resigned his role at the FSA. The Labour whips planted a question with Khalid Mahmood about Crosby, as if to shoot the Tory fox. “They can even plant questions at short notice,” started Cameron, witheringly. Brown kicked it into the long grass, saying an investigation into banking “rejulation” as he pronounced it – after last week’s “rec-depression” there is something of the George W about Brown. He even seemed to struggle over KPMG and later accused the Tories of “setting their faze (sic) against ordinary families”, as well as talking of “new pison (sic) places". His face looks grey, his hair a mess. The poor guy really does look in a bad way.

Cameron went for Crosby anyway. It is, after all, a live story and represents Cameron’s best chance to get a clip on the news (the objective of PMQs). Is Crosby still advising Brown? No, it seems. “Why can’t the Prime Minister just admit for once that he made an error of judgement? No apology about boom and bust. Even the bankers have apologised, why can’t he?” And will Brown admit that appointing Crosby was a mistake? Of course not, but it’s fun asking Brown to apologise for anything.

Cameron then tried his own version of Brown’s favourite tactic: dividing lines. The Tories, he said, made good judgments: supporting a national loan guarantee scheme and opposing the VAT cut. Brown’s judgements were duff. “Who gave us the largest deficit in the developed world? He did. Who made Britain the highest personal indebted country in the world? He did. Who set up the regulatory system that has so failed? He did.” The Tory benches joined in with the “he did” – a chant that Americans love to use. I think it worked quite well.

Cameron then quoted Balls about saying it’s the worst downturn in 100 years. Brown then quoted “Barick [sic] Obama” saying “doing nothing is not an option.” It's excruciating hearing Brown quote Obama, it’s a verbal equivalent of Hague’s baseball cap. It actually did sound like was trying to rap later on (“If I…If I…If I.. If I…may s… may say so…”), but on better ground when Cameron quoted Sarkozy saying Brown is “ruining” the British economy.

Brown was ready for him, saying the “shadow shadow Chancellor (Ken Clarke) was for the VAT cut." Cameron said that Brown never gets his facts right, then came out with the quote of the day. “Last week he said he was like Titian aged 90. The fact is that Titian died aged 86.”  Although, truth is, no one really knows how old Titian was when he died. The great man himself claimed to be well in his 90s, but that's a matter of furious academic debate - click here for more. The Tories claim to have extensively researched Titian's birth date, but I very much doubt it. If they really have uncovered a document settling the debate, we'd like to see it here in CoffeeHouse.

Anyway, Brown then tried his new dividing line: that the Tories are calling for more regulation of the banks, when they used to argue against it. The problem was not light-touch regulation but wrong-touch regulation. This is, I hope, what Cameron is arguing. The whips have recently encouraged Labour backbenchers to shout “more” and the end of Brown v Cameron sessions, and they obliged.

Clegg looks balder, greyer, more of his slaphead on display. Perhaps he’s trying to put on some age. There is something of a comedown seeing him and not Cable. I still see him as Danny Larusso to Cable’s Mr Miyagi (This is the 25th anniversary of Karate Kid, so it’s on my mind). Clegg made no impact this time.

Brown mentioned “500,000 vacancies in the economy”. It’s worth noting this is 100,000 fewer than he was going on about last month. The economy really is in freefall. For the record, vacancies fell by 24% YoY in December, with vacancies down by 34% in finance, 41% in manufacturing and 46% YoY in construction.

Interesting piece of Boris bashing towards the end of the session. Andrew Gwynne, a new intake Labour MP, said that Greater Manchester could handle the snow, but “contrast that with the chaos in our capital city, London, where the tube was closed and bus services didn’t run. Was it an act of God or the inaction of Boris?” It would have worked better had he come up with this wheeze last Wednesday. Brown says it’s a glimpse of what happens if we have the “misfortune” of a Conservative government. When Michael Heseltine went for the leadership in 1991, he said it was to save Britain from the “ultimate calamity” of a Labour government. I liked that language far better, shame Major didn’t keep it up. Because, thanks to Brown, Heseltine was right first time.

UPDATE: Paul Waugh's spotted that CCHQ may have been engaging in a bit of 'Wiki-manipulation' to help them win the Titian's DoB debate.

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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