Great fireworks today over Northern Rock. Cameron started with sombre questions about taxpayers’ money involved - Can Brown guarantee the safe return of the taxpayers’ money given Northern Rock? Was he advised the liability could rise so high? Could it rise higher than £55bn? No answer. Brown tried his trick of last week of asking Cameron a question so often that Michael Martin intervened. “He doesn’t have to answer the Prime Minister’s question,” says Michael Martin. Not until the next general election, at any rate.
Then for Cameron’s coup de theatre. “I’ll tell you what you did. When it came to the need for a total guarantee of deposits, you dithered and delayed. When it came to pushing for a sale with Lloyds TSB, you dithered and delayed. When it came to advice you were getting to sell this bank, you dithered and delayed. Why did you dither and delay? Because you were planning a general election?” It was brilliant, a good old schoolhouse spanking. Cameron has mastered the art of speaking down to Brown - using “you” rather than the parliamentary “he.” Brown’s voice almost shook as he replied “there was no offer from Lloyds TSB as he alleges”. No offer, because its approach was mishandled.
Nick Clegg had a brilliant point about the RICS projecting that home repossessions will rocket by 50 percent this year to 45,000. Brown was gloating about Americans losing their homes recently: this is toxic to him. Then Clegg goes and spoils it by accusing Brown of allowing “irresponsible lending practices to destabilise the market” – would Clegg prefer the low-paid not to own a home? Brown tried to swat him away, with Huhne’s “Calamity Clegg” dossier. He won’t be able to swat the issue of repossessions away so easily.
Challenged about Peter Hain, Brown replied saying the “Work Secretary” is doing well because “unemployment is down, jobs are up” – again, how much Brown owes those Poles. “Incapacity benefit is down” yes, and falling at the same speed Venice is sinking.
Three cheers for Anne McIntosh, who corrected Brown’s inflation narrative with the figures the public are all too familiar with. Food up 7 percent, energy up 15 percent, petrol up 20 percent. “Why is the rate of inflation running higher now than the rate his government inherited?” “But it’s not, inflation is 2.1 percent,” he chirped. That was a simple untruth. CPI inflation is 2.1 percent now and was 1.6 percent in May 1997, when Brown came into office. How can he get away with claiming otherwise? Does he believe it himself?
A great moment when John Heppell prefaced an organ donoation question by saying he does not envisage a "great demand for my kidney or liver" - and someone shouted "or your brain!" Quite.