David Blackburn

PMQs Live-blog | 15 December 2010

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VERDICT: A quiet PMQs by recent standards. Miliband's delivery is improving, slowly, but the content still fails him. Cameron's commitment to the NHS is clearly very personal, but it pays a tactical dividend also in that the government is immune from the criticism Miliband made. Likewise, Labour's jibes on the economy fall flat: Miliband has no constructive policy agenda, whilst the government's achievement in having calmed the markets and overseen better than expected growth. It's simple for Cameron to claim that the opposition is talking down the economy.

With these advantages at his disposal, Cameron doesn't need to play the Full Flashy. So, when he plays them, his rhetorical cards tend to win tricks. Cameron took home a comfortable win for Christmas today.  

12:32: At last! A question about the Sweden bomber's Islamist connections in Britain. Surprised it has taken so long, perhaps an indication of Theresa May's suprisingly serene perfomance on Monday.

12:30: As an indication of the moribund atmosphere at the end of term feast: Labour's John Baron has asked the most painful question about Howard Flight's recent comments. Verdict to follow.

12:25: Ambling questions from the backbenches, but one flash from Labour over the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election. It seems the Liberals have delayed announcing their candidate until 15th January; Labour claim this is to cower from cuts unpopularity.

12:20: Here is a preview of a political battle for 2011: two questions from Labour backbenchers on privatising the Post Office, with Miliband in nodding agreement.

12:18: David Lammy wants the PM to give Spurs some dispensation for a new stadium; Cameron says he has learnt from experience to leave football well alone.

12:15: Miliband persists with the broken promises line and hopes that Cameron will keep the promises of 2010 in 2011. It's very laboured, as Miliband jousts with the virility of Edward II. Cameron finishes this year's exchange strongly: Labour started and ended the year with a dithering leader who had no answers for the economy.  

12:12: Miliband now turns to 'Cameron the Promise Breaker'. 'It's time for the front half of the pantomime horse to take the blame for some broken promises.' Promises broken on the NHS, the Educational Maintenance Allowance and protecting the poor all broken. Miliband tries to get a chant of 'broken' going from his backbenchers, but it's hopelessly feeble, half of them look asleep.

Cameron says: If he wants to talk pantomime he'll have to start looking behind him soon. Easy again, especially as he hasn't broken any specific pledge.

12:10: Curious interlude about tuition fees and students; Miliband says that Cameron is only interested in students from China. Completely bizarre, and the Tories are hounding him. Cameron evades the question for the very good reason that none seem to have been asked.

12:07: Two questions for the price of one from Miliband: Cameron wants to sound like a by-stander when it comes to unemployment, before turning his fire to the Health Select Committee, which is Tory led, and its findings that real-terms NHS spending will fall. He's breaking a promise.

An odd line of attack. First,Cameron deals with the 'by-stander' jibe by pointing out that Labour does not have an economic policy. Second, the Tories have very clearly ring-fenced NHS spending, when the Labour party never has. Easy for Cameron so far, and he's warming up the rhetoric.  

12:05: Here comes Miliband with a sombre Christmas message for Our Boys and then gets down to business: public sector unemployment is up. Cameron regrets this blip, obviously, but is clear that the long-time future for private sector employment is very healthy. 

12:04: Cameron responds by saying that Lewisham's funding remains the 10th highest in the country, a reflection of the area's deprivation. There followed a short plant about the Irish loan from Mark Reckless, allowing Cameron to praise his government's economic record.

12:02: And Labour's Heidi Alexander  gets the last PMQs of the year underway with a question about local cuts in Lewisham, which was the scene of riots 2 weeks ago.

11:50: Stay tuned for live coverage from 12:00.