Fraser Nelson

Europe dominates PMQs

Europe dominates PMQs
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Fabian Hamilton kicked off with today’s planted question. Poverty pay in this country has been abolished by the National Minimum Wage, he says, and will Brown increase it and retain his commitment to high employment?  Poverty pay is, of course, alive and well – in those who operate in the booming black market. At least a quarter of a million are paid less than the minimum wage.

Anyway, Brown announces it will be £5.73 this October – a 60% rise from the original minimum wage (Brownie alert - that’s a bogus rather than real terms rise using the £3.60 rate of 1999 as a base). We have created 3m jobs, says Brown (no, the economy has created them and 81% of those jobs are accounted for by immigrants). And just 3% of these jobs are minimum wage jobs.

Cameron led on Europe – a separate issue that we’ll blog on later. Suffice to say that Brown can’t pronounce “Maastricht “(the way he says it rhymes with “ostrich”) and is itching to get the referendum vote rejected so he can ask his favourite question: what will the Tories do next? Will they renegotiate? As he knows, the Tories have no answer to this rather than the enigmatic formula that they won’t let matters lie. Cameron is getting to the end of the easy part of this debate. Brown laid into Cameron after the final question, to cries of delight from Labour benches. It’s been a while since I’ve heard that sound at PMQs.

Cameron used his Obama phrase: that the political system in Britain is so badly “broken”. But he’s exactly right on this point. What a joke the system of manifesto promises really is.

Nick Clegg simply disgraced himself, accusing Brown of colluding with the Tories to block an in-or-out referendum “that the British people really want”. What rank dishonesty. “There is not much principle, Mr Speaker, in recommending abstention” said Brown. Exactly the right response. Cameron covered his face and shook his head while Clegg spoke. Exactly the right response. Brown says he agrees with Clegg that the Tories are being driven by Eurosceptics – if only.

David Marshall (Glasgow East) asked Brown to consider a windfall levy on gas profits and put the cash into winter fuel allowance – there have been rumours that Brown will do just this in the Budget. But Brown seemed to say “wait for the Ofgem investigation”. British Gas is making a loss on its retail gas right now: if I were the industry I’d correct the impression of profiteering as quickly as it can. It could cost them plenty.

Brown repeated his untrue claim about Boris cutting police spending. His team at No10 is much improved (as I examine in my political column tomorrow) and it seems he is confident enough to roll out a few dodgy stats again. CoffeeHouse will start to offer its humble corrective this afternoon.

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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