Fraser Nelson

Cameron takes charge at PMQs

Cameron takes charge at PMQs
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Brown looked dejected, buffeted and battered by events. Cameron looked confident, in charge of them. The Tory leader kicked off asking why all new claims can’t be put online? (Ben Wallace did so ages ago, and was hated by many in his party, but Cameron backed him). Brown’s response was in auto-garble, speaking as if reading the small print from an insurance advert. "We need to have outside bodies" – what difference in the language they use.

Problem is, the second homes allowance is just one scam. Cameron then went to another one: what about the “communications allowance?” It’s a mechanism to allow Labour MPs in marginal seats to respond to Lord Ashcroft’s marginal seat campaign funding. Brown uttered something non-committal, then Cameron came back: in this time of austerity, "how does he justify the £10,000 communications allowance?" Brown then dons the hair shirt. "I have myself refused the pension that is able to be given to any serving PM" – well, the pension is given to retired PMs and, actually, he hasn’t refused it. And it’s open to the house to change communication allowance, Brown says. Not my fault.

Of course it’s open to the house, Cameron says, but "what we need is some leadership." Precisely right. He then moves on to another problem: the number of MPs. Westminster has one MP for every 94,000 people – it’s one of the most politician-saturated countries in the world. Brown says "these are matters that have to go before an independent commission" – again, the very get-out clause that Cameron was hounding him for. There followed a weird moment, where Cameron was retorting and heard Labour MPs jeer him. He stopped speaking, looked at Michael Martin and gestured towards the noisy rebels with his head. On cue, Martin shushed them. Heel, boy, heel.

Cameron continued: "I wonder if they need an independent commission to work out if they want tea or coffee in the morning ... Isn’t it time to see ourselves as the rest of the country sees us? How can we bring about the change the country needs if we cannot change ourselves?" And, yes, we all know this last bit was inspired by the rhetoric of a famous black American*. Brown responds with his father-of-the-nation card ("I am sorry that he has chosen today to divide on issues"). Strange, once Brown choked on the s-word - now he says it all the time. Anyway, his defence: "Leadership is me saying to all the political parties that they have to act now and immediately." No, Prime Minister, that is asking for leadership. He really doesn’t get it.

Now, Clegg. He mentions the Gurkhas – of course! – but then to business. His problem is the !biggest loophole of all – MPs making hundreds and thousands of pounds buying and selling property funded by the taxpayer." I agree with Clegg on this, and can’t see why MPs cant be housed as military officers are – i.e. given decent, but not excessive, accommodation on which they’re not allowed to make a penny of profit or furnish like palaces at taxpayers’ expense. Clegg should be careful, though, because if he wants MPs to repay capital gains than it follows they should be refunded for capital losses.

Roger Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnorshire) says that 100,000 will leave the countryside “because of lack of affordable housing”. Brown say he’ll help: he’s certainly fulfilled his promise to make housing more affordable. Prices are off 15%.

Tony Wright asked Brown to ask Cameron to accept whatever the Kelly Commission says. Theresa May had refused to when he was up against her on Newsnight last night, and he evidently smelled blood. Brown was non-committal, saying he hoped Kelly would come up with a report that he could support. So, Tony, forget about Theresa May. Brown doesn't agree with you.

Wonderful moment form Dennis Skinner, who said that the “sunny uplands” of the economy are in sight. That’s what John Major said, too.  And I suspect Brown will be heading for an even more spectacular defeat.

* “If you wanna make the world a better place/take a look at yourself and make a change” - Man in the Mirror, 1988

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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