“If he really thinks these exchanges once a week are a substitute for a proper television debate, then he’s even more out of touch than I thought. We have to be honest with ourselves – not many people watch these exchanges and not all those that do are hugely impressed with them. We’ve seen TV debates in Italy, Australia and Poland. So I have to ask him: what on earth is he frightened of?”
Cameron came to PMQs today on a mission to clean up politics, and sought to enlist Brown’s support. Does he agree that MPs should not vote on their own pay? Erm, yes he does and he voted on it too. Does he agree that the Commons final salary pension scheme should be closed to new entrants? No answer. And will he agree to do a TV debate? You must be joking. Brown’s claim that PMQs is a substitute is risible. The claim that it would be like JFK v Nixon is also wide of the mark. Brown makes Tricky Dicky sound like Cicero.
Cameron didn’t score many points on this, but he’s on the right track. As I argued a few weeks ago, the political class is held in contempt – and the Tories need to stand against the political class, Obama-style. Cameron rather misfired today, but it’s the right target.
Clegg continued with his formula of a good question (on dismal mental health provision) followed by a bad one (on his preposterous position on the Lisbon Treaty). Words fail me when describing the LibDems on Europe, so I’ll move on.
Robert Wilson (Con, Reading East) asked – as CoffeeHouse did last week – why a record 207,000 Brits emigrated last year. Basic trend of global migration, he answered, it will continue. Hmm. Doesn’t explain why no other country (other than New Zealand) has lost so many of its high-skilled people.
The SNP’s Angus Robertson had quite a funny wee question – about a vote in a ward in the Highlands where 60% voted nationalist and just 3% voted Labour. “What government policy does he think motivated those 97 hardy souls to vote Labour?” Brown replied independence per se remains unpopular. That won’t help him when he’s relying on Scots to overrule a Tory-voting England on 6 May 2010.
A CoffeeHouser (David Gillies) recently observed that Brown’s poor debating performance makes one question him more broadly. “If the man can't think on his feet, what reason do we have to believe he can think sitting down?” Conversely when Cameron does think on his feet, as per the above quote, it’s a positive sign.
But I’ll leave you with this figure. At this same stage in the election cycle, end-Feb 1995, a Gallup/Telegraph poll had Tony Blair on 60.5% of the vote, a 40-point lead. Cameron’s averaging a 7-point lead. The Tories have so, so much to do.