Peter Hoskin

PMQs live blog | 13 May 2009

Text settings
Comments

Expect  much ado about expenses in PMQs today, especially after David Cameron took the lead on the issue yesterday.  Live coverage from 1200.

1203: Brown now.  First question from the Labour benches: a mention of MPs' expenses, and what can Brown do to "invest" in skills - "unemployment is not a price worth paying".  Brown uses the opportunity to talk about the "unacceptable" system of MPs' allowances, and to reel off a skills-related tractor production list.

1205: Cameron cuts a different figure from the combative one of last week - muted but firm.  He asks Brown whether "one thing that could be done right now" is to publish all expense claims online.

1208: Brown says that all politicians have a "duty" to "restore trust" in the political system.

1208:
Cameron makes a point the public will like: "If we ask a committee to investigate whether any rules weere broken, then - surprise, surprise - it will report back and say that they weren't ... this isn't a legal issue, but an ethical and moral one."

1210: Brown deploys one of his tactis of last year: "I wish we could go beyond party politics on this issue."

1211: Cameron repeats the point about a committee, and follows it up with a doozy: that the communications allowance - worth £10,000 for MPs to "contact their constuents and tell them what an excellent job they're doing" - should be scrapped.  Not only does this make sense, but it will be popular with the public.

1213: Brown looks stymied.  He won't commit to scrap the communications allowance, and says that MPs have already voted on the (risible) measures he put forward a couple of weeks ago.

1214: This is effective stuff from Cameron.  He asks Brown, again, how he can justify that £10,000 when people and businesses across the country are cutting their expenditure.  And now a point that "we should reduce the cost of politics by reducing the size of Parliament."

1215: Brown: "These are issues that must go before an independent inquiry ... I'm trying to build a political consensus on change."  Don't laugh.

1216:
Cameron: "I wonder whether he needs a committee to decide whether to have tea or coffee in the morning ... we don't need enedless committees, we need leadership".

1217: Brown's found his dividing line and he's sticking by it: "I'm disappointed that he's chosen to not work together on this."

1219:
And here's Clegg.  Claims that none of the proposed solutions deal with the "biggest loophole": MPs gaining £1,000s from properties bought with taxpayer-funded mortgages. Good line: "Shouldn't we take MPs out of the property game altogether?"

1220:
Brown says that the Kelly committee will look into it.

1222: Brown makes an important point - that there are some hardworking MPs - but I doubt it will go down well in the current climate.

1223:
Parliament seems relatively quiet today.  Are the honourable members ashamed?

1224: We're on to backbench questions now.  So far, Brown's been asked about Corus and rural affairs.

1226: I wonder whether the Tory backbenchers have been told to concentrate on policy this week, after the more personal attacks on Brown last week. Angela Browning asks about Equitable Life pension holders.

1226: Oh dear.  Dennis Skinner.  Says there were two "good news" stories this week: the rise in the minimum wage and reports that .  Finishes off with a quip about "Tory grandees", Norman Lamont and David Cameron, the point of which escapes me.

1230: Questions on housing and Stone Henge.

1232:
Tony Wright asks Brown whether the Government will commit to the measures in the Kelly review of expenses.  Brown says that he hopes that he can commit to all the measures, and that he hopes the other party leaders can too.

1233: That's it.  Verdict soon.

VERDICT:
Cameron picked up where he left off yesterday.  He's got the lead on the issue of expenses, and he's not letting go - as evidenced by his suggestion that the communications allowance be scrapped.  Brown looked flustered and weak in response.  His tactic is clear: to paint the Tories as a party which is refusing to "work together" with the Government to "restore trust".  But Brown's committee, committee, committee approach fails to capture the urgent public mood in the way that Cameron's sensible, quickly enactable, measures do.  Quite simply: the Tory leader has looked more like a Prime Minister-in-waiting over the past two days.  While the man he seeks to replace looks increasingly like a sorry relic.