Peter Hoskin

PMQs live blog | 17 November 2010

Text settings

VERDICT: Harriet Harman's questions must have looked quite clever on paper: a heavy emphasis on police cuts, followed by a quick dose of indigation over the vanity photographers. But, in reality, they were breezily repelled by Cameron. All he had to do was cite the words of Alan Johnson and refer to a list of Labour's own dodgy hires. By the time Harman attacked the cost of elected police commissioners, leaving Cameron to stand up for greater local democracy and accountability, it was clear who had won this bout: the Prime Minister, by some distance. Although, as Andrew Neil and Tim Montgomerie have noted, the absence of any talk about an Irish bailout was unsettling, to say the least.

1233: Labour are persistently talking down the economy, claims Cameron. And that's pretty much it. My short verdict soon.

The PM downplays Vince Cable's suggestion that the abolition of RDAs is progressing in a chaotic fashion.

Cameron: "This is a government that has made some progressive choices in education ... even though we inherited a mess to clean up."

Cameron is shifting his rhetoric on immigration from the election campaign. He still emphasises that "net immigration is too high," but quickly adds that, "this has to be managed in a business-friendly way". This after concerns, from Vince Cable among others, that the immigration cap may be being imposed too bluntly.

A strange dictat from Cameron, speaking about the British film industry: "The Harry Potter films are a good example ... we've got to make films that people want to watch, and will make them visit the country."

Asked for an update on the training of Afghan army, Cameron says that "it's performance is improving, but we have to keep working at this."

Stephen Timms asks how many jobs Cameron wants to see created in a new Tech City in East London - "how will he go about it?" The PM responds, rightly, that it's not the government's place to say how many jobs it wants - but that it will do all it can to help the process along.

Laughter as Cameron trips over his words, and says that "we need to get fast wheelchairs" (rather than "getting wheelchairs to patients faster").

Another question over "frontline cuts," this time to midwives. Cameron says that he does want to see an increase in midwives, and that the Tories are "funding the health service" to make it possible. And then one of his favourite (but most unpersuasive) points: that the NHS ringfence is A Good Thing in itself.

Cameron decribes this as "one of the defining issues" of the next few years: "how to make sure that job losses in the public sector are covered by growth in the private sector." He's right, you know.

Cameron again mentions today's employment figures.

Ooohs as Jon Bercow gets forceful over a backbench question that has gone on a bit too long.

Cameron turns a potentially tricky quesiton on its head. Harman attacks over the vanity photographers, but the Prime Minister's reponse is simply to list a number of the dubious SpAds and hang-ons and that New Labour employed. The coalition benches start cheering the list, although their opponents chant "Coulson, Coulson".

Intriguing attack from Harman, as she claims that the cost of hiring elected police commissioners would be better spent on more police officers - will Cameron reconsider? Cameron is blunt: "No". He continues: "We can all agree that democracy is a good thing, so why not have a bit of it in policing?" This is an issue where, I imagine, the public are on the government's side.

Big cheer from the Labour benches as Harman claims the Tories always say "there is no alternative because of cutting the deficit".

Harman refers specifically to the Greater Manchester police force, where there's talk of 20 police cuts to "frontline" police staff. But Cameron's been well-briefed. He hits back with a list of how many backroom staff - IT staff, human resources staff, etc. - there are in the Greater Manchester force. "This is the debate we should be having," he frowns, "how to get resources from the backline to the frontline."

Harman quotes a Cameron interview from before the election, to the effect that a Tory government would avoid cuts to "frontline services". But Cameron gets the better of her by quoting Alan Johnson, during the election campaign, that Labour couldn't guarantee there would be no cuts in police numbers. "Can't we have a proper debate?" he says.

Harman's first question is put forward placidly, but it's got some venom behind it: how many police officers will be lost as a result of spending cuts? Cameron says that it's a choice for local forces, and throws in some counterarguments about Labour's fiscal management for good measure.

The first question, from Tory Mp Mark Lancaster, highlights this morning's encouraging employment figure - but adds that bureuacracy should be trimmed to help small businesses employ staff. Cameron agrees.

And they're off. Cameron leads in with condolences for the soldier who was killed on Remembrance Sunday. He also describes the engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton as "wonderful news".

Stay tuned for live coverage of today's Cameron vs Harman bout from 1200.