Peter Hoskin

PMQs live blog | 25 March 2009

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Brown's off saving the world, so it's a Harman-Hague-Cable match-up at PMQs today.  Stay tuned for live coverage from 1200.

1201: You can watch proceedings here.

1207: Here's Harman.  First question from Joan Ryan, wanting an assurance that the Government "will do all it can" to combat rising burglary.  Harman, predictably, gives an answer in the affirmative, and reels off some policies...

1208: Cheers for Hague as he stands to the lectern.  As he did a few weeks ago, he leads on the government's failure to get its business loans scheme up-and-running.  Keys into the "headless chickens" attack.

1210: Harman looks flustered from the off.  She slips up, claiming that the Government have helped 93 businesses - she meant to say 93,000.  Attempts, unconvincingly, to bring it round to "do nothing" Tories. 

1212: Hague's bringing out the jokes now - referring to Brown "unpacking his Speedos" on a Latin American beach.  Follows it up by mentioning Mervyn King's intervention yesterday.

1213: If you had a drink every time Harman said "do nothing", "unprecedented" or "global crisis", you'd already have alcohol poisoning.

1215: Harman tries to attack the Tories on IHT, calling their policy "£2 billion being squandered on 3,000 poeple".  Hague hits back marvelously: "I know inheritance preoccupies the niece of the Countess of Longford..."

1217: Hague gives Harman a "final opportunity" to respond to King's comments yesterday - "otherwise the public will rightly conclude that the Government is in open disagreement with the Bank of England".  Harman declines the opportunity, and instead lays into the Tories and their "Millionaires' Manifesto".  Pointless.

1219: Cable calls King's intervention a "very British coup d'etat", and asks how much room the government have on tax and spend.

1220: Harman avoids the question: "It was this Government which gave the Bank independence to set interest rates..." 

1222: Cable calls for the VAT cut to be withdrawn.  Harman responds by bashing the Tories, as a party who only care about "millionaires".  It seems like the Government are going to go heavy on this attack.  But will it work, given the failures of the "Tory toff" attacks last year?

1227: Technical problems are slowing me down a bit, but not much has come out of the back bench questions so far.  Plenty of Labour questions teeing up attacks for Harman against the Tories.  Funny to hear her bash "Tory cuts" and then answer a separate question with: "At a time when public spending is tight, we need to make sure that every penny of public money is wisely spent.".

1229: John McFall asks whether the Government will make action on unemployment a centerpiece of the G20 meeting.  Harman: "everything it takes ... do nothing Tories ... etc. etc."

1231: Backbench questions on bankers' bonuses, Northern Ireland and asbestos-related illnesses.

1233: More on mortgage assistance schemes, international aid and newspaper job losses.

1236: Harman gets angry replying to a question from Justine Greening, saying that the Tories would cut £600 million from the further education budget.  Hm.

1237: And that's it. 

PMQs VERDICT: Hague and Cable certainly put Harman on the back foot, and she gave, for the most part, a faltering and unconvincing performance.  Her stubborn refusal to answer Hague's questions about Mervyn King came across badly, but it may have been enough to divert a killing blow.  Harman's reliance on a "Millionaires' Manifesto" attack is worth noting - although, overall, it was pretty forgettable stuff.