Fraser Nelson

Dogged resistance from Brown over Northern Rock

Dogged resistance from Brown over Northern Rock
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In India, Brown was full of beans – boasting at one stage that he’d outlasted Dame Kelly Holmes who had to retire to her hotel. He should have saved his energy. He looked exhausted at PMQs today. Until Cameron piped up on Northern Rock, that was. Then he sprang to life and put up a hell of a fight.

Much rests on whether Cameron can make Northern Rock stick. Brown is like a used car salesman – “he’s gone from Prudence to Del Boy without even touching the ground” (sure I’ve heard that before). “It’s a sub-prime deal from a sub-Prime minister”. Good. Ditto the line on liquidisation. But he didn’t get Brown on the ropes.

Brown now has two strategies for Cameron at PMQs. He can’t answer questions very well, so he doesn’t try anymore. He acts like he was Shadow Chancellor, ignore the question and attacks Cameron on an aspect of Tory policy. Every time. It’s like it’s 1995 all over again. Brown is an attack machine, never happier than when he’s behind a machine gun firing off statistics into men wearing blue rosettes. That’s the position he now assumes at PMQs.

Brown’s second strategy is one of denial, giving rosy statistics boasting about record employment and lower inflation. Cameron hit back in exactly the right way. How can Brown talk about low inflation when people are paying 107p a litre for petrol? (set aside fuel prices, etc). As I say in my political column in tomorrow’s magazine, Brown’s statistics may embolden Labour MPs but they strike the public as a joke. A dangerous gap has opened between what he says, and what modest-income families experience.

Great entry from Nick Clegg, who didn't seem to care that the Northern Rock question had been asked. “How can he justify fleecing the taxpayer when he knows temporary nationalisation is the right thing to do” (I agree). “He won’t nationalise the bank because he’s running scared of the Conservative Party.” This is precisely the point for a third party leader to make. Tellingly Brown said nationalisation is still on the cards.

The best Tory point was Stephen Crabb’s opening corker: what’s happening to Britain when Jacqui Smith needs a police escort to buy a kebab. Brown instantly reached for the protection of the statistics: violent crime down 31% since 1997. I’ll Fisk this later, but am pretty sure recorded violent crime has more than doubled since 1997.

Again, we see Brown planting his narrative into the mouths of Labour backbenchers. This time it was Andrew Smith’s turn to refer to the “turbulence in global market and the impact that can have on people’s everyday lives.” As they say in the Dog & Duck. Phyllis Starkey was made to say that “in this global economy, we need upskill workers” – removing the incentive for them to choose welfare over work would be a start. Incentives, not skills, is the issue.


CoffeeHousers always jump down my throat when I say this, but I think Brown did well today. Those who half-expected to see a political hanging left disappointed. He should be in meltdown, the economy is turning south, the deficit is out of control, police marching outside parliament, his Northern Rock deal has been compared to the South Sea Bubble by Anatole Kaletsky. And today he with his fists up, acting for all the world as if it were the Tories who were in trouble. From my standpoint, it was a reminder why it he is a political survivor – and why I, for one, will not be writing him off just yet

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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