Lloyd Evans

HMS Brown is sinking

HMS Brown is sinking
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A commanding performance from Cameron today. There were large cheers, and larger expectations, on the Tories benches as he stood up. His first words were an improvised response to the opening question, placed by Labour poodle Khalid Mahmood, demanding that ‘the allegations against Sir James Crosby must be investigated.’ ‘So,’ said Cameron, ‘they can even plant questions at short notice.’ He invited the Prime Minister to admit ‘a serious error of judgement’ in appointing James Crosby to the FSA. Brown waffled about awaiting the outcome of various investigations and Cameron came back forcefully calling Crosby ‘the man who was going to sort out mortgage market’. His footnote that the Prime Minister had knighted Crosby released the unappetising stench of cronyism into the house. Brown was forced to admit that Crosby was no longer a government economic advisor and he downplayed Crosby’s influence saying it amounted only to the writing of two reports. Normally Brown would drink burning lava rather than admit that his judgement is faulty and his voice dropped noticeably during this exchange and he looked distinctly uncomfortable. Is there more he’s hiding?

Cameron’s next move was neatly judged. He called Crosby’s resignation ‘decent’ (showing his humane side with a flash of Churchillian ‘magnanimity in victory’) and he contrasted Crosby’s principled departure with Brown’s failure to admit that the appointment had been an error. Brown refused to admit the mistake and Cameron moved on to the discrepancy between a government prediction that the economy would return to growth in July and Ed Balls’s gaffe about ‘the worst recession in 100 years’. Good homework from Cameron. He correctly predicted all the PM’s answers and responded instantly to them. And he deftly linked the Crosby debacle with the wider issue of Labour’s boom and bust and Brown’s state of denial over it. This is exactly what Cameron wants, an area of ground which the Prime Minister finds very shaky underfoot but which he can’t, or won’t, budge from. It’s double jeopardy for Brown. Contrition now would look disingenuous but the continued absence of contrition will fuel public anger. He must be regretting the mistakes of his spin-machine last autumn. Instead of admitting what was obvious to everyone – that some but not all of the responsibility was his – he shimmied into the wings, pulled on his tights and started prancing about the world stage doing fiscal pirouettes which the rest of us were supposed to applaud. Cameron will repeat this attack and more he thumps at it the more the bruise will sting.

For the LibDems, Nick Clegg gave his usual cold, hectoring performance. Where was the focus? Bank bonuses, loan shortages, unemployment. All got a mention, none made a hit. His sign-off line, ‘a say-anything, do-nothing government,’ is unlikely to trouble collectors of political aphorisms. He was easily outclassed by his colleague David Heath, a bearded mountain of a man with a passionate foghorn delivery, who surged to his feet, bellowed out a trio of Brown blunders and yelled, ‘Is this a failure of management or failure of leadership?’ Simple, angry, brutal. Clegg could learn from this example.

For the Tories, Henry Bellingham caused exquisite degrees of embarrassment with a shrewd and deceptively straightforward question. Of the thousands of illegal immigrants found to be working in the security services, how many had been kicked out of the country? ‘I’ll write to him on that,’ said Brown and instantly realised how feeble this sounded. ‘Once the problem had been identified,’ he went on, ‘we immediately took action.’ That looked even weaker.

Cameron was in full sail today. The PM is becalmed and, if not quite sunk, is shipping water fast.