David Blackburn

PMQs Live Blog | 21 October 2009

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Stay tuned for live coverage from 1200.

12:00: Brown is to give a short statement on policing in Northern Ireland, in the hope that recent problems over power sharing can be resolved. Brown is offering a financial settlement to fund devolved justice and policing in Northern Ireland

12:03: Crispin Blunt opens up with the cuts in funding to the TA. Brown argues that increased recruitment into the regular army means that funds have had to be diverted - small reward for the TA who are being sent to Afghanistan.

12:05: Here's Cameron. Will Brown condemn the Royal Mail strikes and urge the CWU to drop its threats? The answer is: no, but it's in no interest that these strikes go ahead.

12:07: Why has Brown not brought Mandelson's bill to the House of Commons? Brown argues that there is no buyer for the Mail, and that in any event, the strike is not about that. Not fully true, which Cameron will point out.

12:08: Cameron asks what's the difference between the Mail and the Tote. The bill was dropped because Brown faced a backbench rebellion and that Brown's weakness has promoted Union militancy.

Brown's fall back that this dispute concerns the 2007 modernisation proposals sticks, but industrial disputes have been exacerbated by Brown's weakness in dropping the bill - an argument voiced by a government minister yesterday.

12:12: Cameron twists the knife - this strike is about Brown's non-leadership. Brown responds with the line: the Tories are wrong about everything.

Heated stuff, but no overall winner. Cameron is right, but he should view this dispute as a warning: as Pete wrote earlier, concerted union efforts will frustrate government legislation as we near the age of austerity. On a seperate point, I think it's extraordinary that Cameron didn't raise Mervyn King's criticisms of the government - missed a trick there I think.

12:14: Clegg cites Mervyn King's critique of banking regulation. Perfect tractor stats territory for Brown.

12:15: Clegg understands that Brown might not wish to split up banks, but wonders why taxpayers' money is being used to pay bankers' bonuses. Brown responds that it's all about long-term profits. Brown wins that argument.

12:15: Karzai's a crook and thief according to Tory Paul Flynn, but Brown rejects that and welcomes the run-off "Good for Afghan democracy" he says.

12:20: Good God! It's Jacqui Smith with a heart-warming plant about rabbits at the Sure Start scheme. Borwn thanks Smith for all her hard work in the past and says the Tories are dastardly for trying to do away with all the works of Smith and Balls. You could only script it.

12:24: Peter Bone wonders if the extra £4bn a year Britain pays to Europe will subsurdise backward farmers and Tony Blair's Presidency? Brown rebukes the Tories' Euroscepticism. Very formuliac stuff.

12:25: DUP's Peter Robinson welcomes Brown's Northern Irish proposal. Much though it pains me that British taxpayers fund this, it's fair enough: a financial settlement  is required to protect Northern Ireland's limited budget  and precarious prosperity - peace has to be the goal and I think that's worth the expenditure.

12:27: What concessions will Britain make at Copenhagen to achieve consensus? Tory James Gray wonders if it will be Heathrow's third runway. Brown does not answer the question.

Verdict: Brown's Northern Ireland statement, which is self-evidently the right approach, gave him the perfect start. Cameron's performance was typically adept and lit with wit, but he did not land a major blow - the Mail dispute requires government action, but the original bill does not provide the answer, the Union has to be tackled head on. He should have asked about Mervyn King's criticisms to undermine Brown's self-appointed status as economic guru; though Clegg did ask and failed to rile Brown. On balance, this was a reasonable day for the PM.