Peter Hoskin

PMQs live blog | 3 March 2010

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Stay tuned for live coverage from 1200.

1201: And here we go.  Obviously, with Brown meeting Zuma, it's the deputies today. Harman starts with condolences for the fallen.

1202: Incidentally, Cameron is being interviewed on TalkSport radio, if you want to listen to that.

1203: First question: why manufacturing has fallen under Labour. Harman says that this is the Tories "talking the country down". Hm. Easier than actually answering the question, I suppose...

1204: This PMQs is already getting noisily partisan.  A second question brings some "do nothing Tories" innuendo from Harman.  Jeers and cheers all round.

1206: Hague now.  His first question is whether Brown was wrong to cut the helicopter budget.

1207: Harman responds with some platitudes about being "committed" to the armed forces.  Hague says he wasn't questioning that, just whether a "mistake" was made with the helicopter budget.

1208: Harman stumbles and calls Hague the "foreign secretary".  Hague jokily picks up on this, and then asks why British debt is seen as riskier than that of McDonalds.

1209: Harman says that the value of Sterling (erm, which is somehting else) depends on a "lot of factors".  Then spins her previous stumble on its head - saying that Hague is assuming the Tories will win.  The she bangs on, clumsily, about Ashcroft.  This is dispiriting stuff.

1211: Snappy response from Hague.  He points out that the question wasn't about Sterling.  That Harman's slip assumed the Tories would win the next election.  That "people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones" when it comes to party funding.  On this final point, he highlights Unite - and Harman's husband, Jack Dromey, who has "passed through an 'all-women' shortlist to become a Labour candidate."

1213: This PMQs isn't going to restore people's faith in politics.  Harman - rather than answering any questions - is still going on about Ashcroft, putting questions to Hague.  Hague responds by pointing the finger at Lord Paul, Labour's own non-dom donor.

1215: Hague deploys Brown's quote about a "weak pound" being the sign of a "weak government".  Harman repsonds by firing more questions at Hague about Ashcroft.  It's all so, so blunt.  And so unedifying.

1216: Bercow steps in to stop Harman going on about Ashcroft.  There are jeers from both sides of the House.

1217: Harman's final point - unrelated to any question, naturally - is that either Ashcroft or Hague "should go".

1218: Phyllis Starkey brings a note of dignity into the House, with a question on Alan Turing. Harman plugs her Equality Bill in response.

1219: Vince Cable steps up.  And gets in jibes at both Harman and the Tories - saying that the former may wish to debate with Zuma about polygamy, and asking whether he'd get a married tax allowance.  He then bangs on about Ashcroft.

1220: Harman uses her response to attack the Tories - both over the marriage tax break and Ashcroft, who, she claims, "mislead the public".

1221: As Cable repsonds, you can hear plenty of voices mentioning the Lib Dem donor Michael Brown.

1222: Now Harman is quoting Ashcroft's autobiography...

1223: This story has just broken: Michael Foot, the former Labour leader, has died.

1224: We're into backbench questions. 

1226: Robert Neill quotes Michael Saunders of Citi, saying that "Only a Conservative majority will stop interest rates on UK debt rising."

1226: Harman complains that she couldn't hear a question because of "too much noise opposite".  Hm, seems like the noise is coming from all over the House. The question, in the end, is - yes, you guessed it - Lord Ashcroft.

1228: A question from David Heathcoat-Amory - who, am I right in remembering, also asked one last week?  He asks the government to apologise for the economic mess.

1229: Plenty of planted questions from the Labour backbenches today - making Harman's life easier. Now she's being teed-up for an attack on the Tories' marriage tax break: that it sends the wrong message to the children of couples who aren't married.  This, after Ashcroft, seems to be Labour's biggest target today.

1231: More digs at Ashcroft.

Question from Bill Wiggin about cancer care and the approval of cancer treatments.  Harman points out that relevant body, NICE, is an independent one.

1234: And that's it. My verdict shortly.

VERDICT: If you were disillusioned about British politics before, then this PMQs won't have done anything to help.  The jeers and cheers were even louder than usual; the politicking even more blatant; and Harman made a mockery of the idea that this is a session for government to answer questions about its business.  For what it's worth, I thought Hague dealt well with Harman's clumsy attacks over Lord Ashcroft.  And, indeed, the Tories did quite a good job of turning the limelight onto their opponents – over Lord Paul, over Jack Dromey, and so on.  But, in the end, the only real achievement of the House today was to make itself look even more decadent and distant than ever.