Fraser Nelson

Lies, laughter and the e-word in PMQs

Lies, laughter and the e-word in PMQs
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So Brown kicked off by praising the Speaker for "unfailing personal kindness to all members of all parties of this house." And with a straight face too! This kindness was the problem, the way Michael Martin ushered everyone to the Fees Office to claim their Generation Game conveyor belt-style goodies. And then it got worse.

Brown says the Royal Mail is "losing 5 million letters a year" - he meant pounds. The House started to softly guffaw, William Hague laughed noiselessly. Brown gets narky: nothing irritates him more than the sound of soft but universal derision. Not the roar of laughter that greeted his "save the banks" - so loud that some Tories I know have it as their mobile phone ringtone. The derision was not disruptive but constant. Hague looked like he had tears in one eye. But Brown refused to keep speaking through it, he stopped and looked over at the Speaker, who duly told the House to shut up.

Then Cameron - "I will never forget the kindness you showed me in 2001". The mortgage interest repayment form no doubt. Then Cameron goes on to hit a bullseye: what did Brown mean when he said an election will cause chaos? A Tory government would be chaos, Brown replies, to roars from his backbenches. He beams, and looks around in a "didn't I do well?" kind of way. Well not really, as this was the answer Cameron was waiting for, and he responded by claiming that Brown had just implicitly admitted that the Tories would win the next election.  

Cameron tried that voice-quivers-with-anger thing as he continued to demand an election, custom made for the lunchtime news. And I don't say this to diss him: the definition of a successful PMQs is getting a ten second slot on the news.

Brown talks about 100,000 being helped back to work every month, and denounces Tory cuts. "The country would be longer in recession if ever we had the misfortune of him ever being in power". Cameron should just go nuclear here: doesn't the PM claim that the recession is ending this year? Or is there something he'd like to tell us? How dare he talk about public sector cuts when his Budget proposes a 7pc cut across all public services in 2011? And will he be honest enough to admit in the House that this is the case - or, even now, does he struggle to level with the public? Cameron didn't engage on this point: a shame, as Brown would not have let a Tory gvt forget that the dole queue is soaring. Its the only economic metric (other than house prices) the public care about.

I couldn't hear Clegg's words of praise for Martin as everyone - rightly - protested. He urged that "the whole way we do politics must be transformed" (i.e. propotional representation), and then he didn't get called for a second question. Martin claimed it was a mistake and then, "I thought there were two questions in the first one". Laughter and a bit of applause for Martin, getting a wee bit of revenge. "Touché, Mr Speaker" replies Clegg, rather gracefully. It's strange how Brown can never turn debating setbacks to his advantage as Blair used to do so brilliantly.

A planted question about supposed Tory policies (I love the way Labour mps make a point of reading them from a piece of paper as if in protest), and Brown in response: "To give 3000 millionaires £200,000 would be completely scandalous". It would, if anyone were proposing it. This is why the Tories are ill advised to think "what will Brown say" when forging policies. Brown will lie and, and as I have blogged before, this point really is a lie rather than an exaggeration. The PM is evidently in campaign mode - maybe Cameron will get that election after all.

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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