A total cheat at PMQs today. It was a swine flu swindle. Only a week has passed since Labour’s manifesto-busting tax-hikes were announced in Darling’s bankruptcy budget and the MPs' expenses scandal is still pumping out clouds of noxious smoke and yet Cameron allowed himself to be persuaded that the pig-bug business equals a State of Emergency. If Cameron agreed to a truce today he was duped. Rather than hammering the prime minister he joined him in a stage-managed recital of announcements and statistics. So what if a few million extra masks have been ordered? The health secretary should deal with that. People watch PMQs for a cage-fight that reveals the competing strengths of the parties. Instead we got a ritualised exchange of niceties and cucumber sandwiches. Still, the boring drivel yielded something of interest. Our fleet-footed government is preparing ‘a leaflet’ which will be delivered to every home in the land ‘by next Tuesday.’ Next Tuesday? That’s eight days after the threat emerged. It’d be quicker to send out the town crier. And couldn’t the public service broadcaster (the BBC, as it’s also known) do some public service broadcasting and save the public 17 million stamps?
Cameron moved from the question of porkie plague to the issue which overshadowed parliamentary business today, the Gurkhas. He asked the PM to insert a clause in the upcoming immigration bill granting a right of settlement to war veterans. Brown refused. They clashed over the numbers of Gurkhas being admitted. A hundred, said Cameron. Brown suggested 4000 with 6000 dependents. But Cameron couldn’t profit much from this issue because, as he conceded, the LibDems have been making the running. Nick Clegg duly turned in his best performance since assuming the leadership of his party. He delivered an excellent soundbite, principled and pithy. ‘If someone is prepared to die for this country, surely they deserve to live here.’ When Brown replied by repeating his earlier figures, Clegg responded with measured fury.
What kind of answer is that? The answer of a man who knows he’s doing a shameful thing but hasn’t the guts to change it.
Now that fiscal probity’s back in vogue, why do we need a Labour government?