Fraser Nelson

Cameron pummels Brown in PMQs

Cameron pummels Brown in PMQs
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My, but David Cameron was good today. Assertive, contemptuous, energetic and all over Gordon Brown. Today's unemployment rise is the highest since records began (in 1972) so he had plenty of ammo. His point was strong and simple: nothing Brown has done is working.

Unemployment is getting worse, all the time. Did this not show how stupid it was for Brown to claim Britain was best-placed to weather the recession? I'll say this for Brown: he is nothing is not audacious. Britain's unemployment is better, he said, than France, German, Japan and this country called the "European Union" (whose figures are dominated by France and Germany). He should have added: "But give me time" - seeing as UK unemployment is rising faster than any developed country apart from Iceland. 

Brown added that much is being done to help those on the dole - £1.3bn being spent that the Tories would not spend. Dividing line. (Brown later used that biblical analogy that St Gordon would not "walk on by the other side" unlike the wicked Conservatives. I do find this piety unbearable).

Cameron says the PM "is just incapable of admitting he got anything wrong" capitalising on the big Sorry he made on Friday. And this, of course, is the Tory tactical dividing line. It's a good deal more effective than something with "billion" on the end of it. Cameron lists the Brown initiatives that have helped literally no one so far: homeowners' support group, asset-backed security system etc. All useless.

Here Cameron is really on to something. He is deploying against Brown all the daft, usless inititaives he announced back in the autumn under the guise of "real help". These are doomed to failure: nothing can stop the contraction of the UK economy, and today's 2m unemployment will slide inexorably towards 3.5m. So Cameron can keep saying "your 'help' is useless" - what's more, it's a motif that will last him until polling day. as the public will see, from the jobs being lost all around them, it is true. As Cameron put it "ineffectiveness and hyperactivity is the worst possible combination."

Then Cameron introduced a new attack point. "We've just had the view from the bunker". He's saying this because, I suspect, he plans to do a tour of the UK over the next two weeks -  a series of his Cameron Direct shows - while Brown broods in No10. So it makes a powerful juxtaposition: Cameron in the country, engaging with the public, and Brown (literally) meeting in a bunker with his so-called National Economic Council to discuss the economy. Fundamentally, Brown is a backroom politician, more at home hurling staplers in election HQ than on the stump. So this attack line has much power.  It reveals a far wider truth. Cameron is at his happiest (and his best) talking to members of the public. Brown is at his happiest punching figures into a calculator. And we all know which skill is more valuable come election time.

Brown's attacks were based on his mendacious claim that the Tories propose cutting government spending - as I have blogged this is, alas, untrue. And he shouted about Osborne's inheritance tax cut as if this were somehow embarrassing. Let's not forget, this was perhaps the most popular Tory policy in the last five years. The more Brown shouts about this, the better.

The rest of PMQs was fairly boring. Clegg rather useless. He always looks as if he's just had his hair cut, and Chris Huhne always looks as if he's thinking "God, another week in the campaign and I'd have had him". How the LibDems must be anxious. Current polls suggest two thirds of them will lose their seats at the next election.

Nerds' corner

Cameron corrected Brown: the recession started in April, not July. What he means is that Q2 2007 (April, May and June) there was zero growth. A recession is technically defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth, which only happened over Q3. I suspect the pedants would side with Brown here.

UPDATE:  Sadie Smith has her own take on my take here.

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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