David Blackburn

PMQs Live Blog | 27 January 2010

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12:00: Stay tuned for live coverage. As Gordon Brown is still in Northern Ireland, Harriet Harman will face William Hague today.

12:03: Tory John Whittingdale opens up with Army compensation, a hot topic over the summer.

Harman replies that these issues are being addressed by Ainsworth and the MoD.

12:04: Will the government do more to support manufacturing?

Harman points to government action throughout the recession.

12:05: Here's Hague, who wishes Brown luck in Northern Ireland and welcomes the appointment of Mark Sedwell as NATO envoy to Afghanistan. (See Daniel Korski from Monday for more details).

12:06: Hague wants the forthcoming Afghanistan Conference to be realistic, on top of his brief here.

Harman replies by saying she's surprised Hague isn't supporting current action in Afghanistan - silly party political point that Hague sweeps aside contemptuously.

12:08: Will the government follow Obama's lead on a break between retail and investment banking? All this is kicking off in Davos as we speak.

Harman says the Americans have a different system.

12:09: Hague reckons that Brown's wrong again, and asks that Brown drop the destructive Tobin tax and raise a levy on banks to pay for the insurance the taxpayer has given them.

Harman responds by harping on about fiscal stimulus - I'm mean really you could only script this.

12:11: Hague is clear that Brown's approach to regulation is wrong, as he is on all matters financial. Measured stuff from Hague, concluding with the phrase: "A golden age for banking? When are they going to fix the banks".

Harman tries another favoured line that the Tories are talking down Britain. Didn't answer a question.

12:14: Vince Cable on the news about equality - why hasn't it improved after 13 years of Labour government?

Harman points to what she alleges is the report's conclusion that inequality widened under the previous Conservative government and that Labour has stemmed it.

The first half of that answer is true; the second is utterly false. The report concludes that the gap has widened still further but the pace of inequality has slowed, marginally.

12:16: Cable makes that very point - and then points to the unfair tax system.

Harman repeats her initial argument about the tax and benefits system contributing to this imagined stemming, ignoring conveniently that both penalise work and contribute to inequality - considering it's her hobby-horse she's spectacularly ill-informed.

12:18: A question from an SNP member about the "biggest lie in British politics". That's right it's Iraq and Chilcot again, all prepare for the main event on Friday, which is, bizarrely, how Harman answers.

12:19: Plant alert: David Chayter on a local school that's done well. Harman thanks him for his support.

12:20: David Jones reminds Harman about New Labour's very relaxed attitude to people getting filthy rich; is she comfortable at how Tony Blair is going about it?

Ha! Ha! Harman repsonds, with a straight face, by saying that the government is detirmined to support social mobility! As if Fettes, Oxford and the Bar weren't good enough? Then again, she is an aristocrat.

Howls from the Tories; Bercow intervenes saying he "wants to hear the answer". We all do - Tommy Cooper couldn't have been more hilarious.

12:24: Anne Main on the Equitable Life scandal - will there be court action? No.

12:26: Former housing minister Chris Mullin reckons that outsourcing in housing has contributed to social inequality by denying people pensions etc. It's a very good point - private sector pensions are a forthcoming problem.

12:28: Labour MP Louise Ellman asks about the rising tide of anti-semitism in Britain - there will be a debate on this tomorrow.

12:29: Geraldine Smith asks about the Post Office pension deficit. This issue is returning to the fore, and Harman argues that enough is being done to confront that deficit. Fine, but the Post Office's pensions mess deters potential buyers.

12:31: Labour MP Brian Iddon asks a plant about science teacher numbers given the Tories' plan (blah, blah, blah) 

12:32: Anthony Steen on human trafficking. Awful statistics from Haitian trafficking. Steen wants aid to set up a scheme to ensure children remain safe.

Harman congratulates him for his tireless work on this issue, but doesn't pledge anything.

VERDICT: Car crash for Harman - though this time not distracted by her mobile phone. The social mobility answer to the question about Blair, given the report that was published today, defied belief. It wasn't a question of would not, Harman could not answer a single question that Hague put to her. Hague skillfully proved how Brown (with his Tobin taxes and whatnot) is isolated from international opinion, and he resisted ridiculing Harman, leaving her to achieve that herself with an almost cavalier brilliance. Cable stung the Equalities Queen effectively, though I disagree with the thrust of his analysis: there is more to the problem than just tax. The Labour party cannot seriously consider Harman as a potential leader? Surely not?