Peter Hoskin

PMQs live blog | 7 April 2010

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1200: We're about to start.  Brown is flanked by Harriet Harman and Jim Murphy.  Douglas Alexander, Alistair Darling and Alan Johnson are also on the front bench.  The heavy hitters are out in force...

1201: And here we go, for what could be Brown's last ever PMQs as Prime Minister.  He starts, as usual, with condolences for fallen soldiers.

1202: The first question is as plantlike as they come: will Brown take £6 billion "out of the economy"?  Brown spins the usual dividing line about investing in frontline services, adding that the Tories would risk a "double dip" recession.  Hm.

1204: Massive cheer from the Tory benches as Cameron stands up.  The Tory leader says that this is the last chance, of this Parliament, for Brown to admit accountability for his mistakes.  His first question: were there enough helicopters for our troops in Afghanistan.  A fiery start.

1205: Brown waffles in response, and says that he followed the advice of senior defence officials.

1206: Cameron snaps back, saying that Brown's response typified his premiership: "not taking responsibility".  He quotes major defence and foreign policy figures saying that troops haven't been properly equipped.

1207: Brown wheels out the tractor statistics, claiming that our troops have been adequately equipped.

1208: Cameron wheels around to a line of questioning that he tried last week: Brown's raid on pension funds.  Brown says that Cameron has "never answered a question on policy", and then reels off a list of Labour measures for elderly people - Winter Fuel Allowance, etc.

1209: Both sides are roaring against each other.  Cameron incites his troops by saying that Brown's answers are the kind of waffle that the Tories "will refute" during the election campaign.  Big cheer.

1211: Now Cameron is on to Labour's national insurance hike, pushing Brown on his comment this morning that business leaders had been "deceived" by the Tories.  Brown says that Tory plans to cut spending by £6bn would risk frontline services, the recovery and jobs. Erm, I think the point of all those business leaders is that the national insurance hike would risk jobs.  Darling admitted as much the other day.

1213: Cameron is having great fun quoting erstwhile Labour advisers backing Tory policy on national insurance, but he goes a bit too far by boasting that "half the country" are Tories now.  This could look a bit presumptious.

1215: Ooh, Brown paraphrases Cameron's jibe at Blair: "To ... to ... to think that he was the future once."  Now he's into a list of Labour's "achievements".  Hm.

1216: Cameron got the better of that exchange I think.  Now it's Clegg's turn.  He immediately kicks off with a spot of "plague on both their houses" positioning - pointing at Cameron and Brown, and saying "he and he are deceiving the public" on party funding.  He adds that Labour are "in the pocket" of the unions.  And the Tories likewise with Ashcroft.

1217: Brown says that the Tories were the ones who blocked reform, and they did so under the command of Lord Ascroft.  Quite a heavy claim, that.

Clegg is fully into his Labservative stride, saying that both Labour and the Tories have had their chance and failed.  "It's time for you to go."  Brown again brings up Lord Ashcroft.  Cheers and jeers from all round.

1221: In response to a question from Stephen Hammond, Brown says that he didn't just meet Labour supporters yesterday - but also a load of people who said they want to "secure the recovery" (convenient that).  Brown adds that he "had to tell them" that the Tories want to "take £6bn out of the economy".  The people who have more money in their pockets, as a result of tax cuts, may not agree with that.

1223: Plenty of "secure the recovery" bluster from Brown.

1224: Brown again says that troops have had enough helicopters.  Denis McShane brings up the Tories' alliances in Europe.  The PM somehow links that in with Lord Ashcroft.

1225: The other day, Alistair Dalring said that job losses as a result of the national insurance hike would be "manageable".  Asked what his Chancellor meant, Brown doesn't even stray near the question itself.  Instead, he just talks about unemployment under the Tories.  Again, he claims that the Tories want to "take £6bn out of the economy," and that this would damage jobs.  Balls and Brown seem to have found a new dividing line to stick by.

1227: Michael Fabricant again quotes a business leader saying that the government's national insurance hike will hit jobs.  Brown: "Tories ... £6bn out of the economy ... Ashcroft" etc.

1229: Damian Green has picked up on our post earlier showing that the number of private jobs for UK-born workers has fallen under Labour.  Brown ignores his own rhetoric about "British jobs for British workers," and says that companies want the labour that has been brought in from aborad.  He suggests that Tory plans to limit immigration are damaging.

Brown's giving a list of those areas where Labour has encouraged "record investment".  Yep, it really has come to this.

And that's it.  Verdict shortly.

VERDICT: Unsurprisingly, today's PMQs was a raucous affair, with all sides trying to push their main campaign messages.  In Cameron and Clegg's cases, this worked well.  The Tory leader stirred the national insurance pot, while also lambasting Brown's treatment of two core groups: the armed forces and pensioners.  And the Lib Dem leader was fiery and direct (if somewhat disingenous) in his denunciations of the other two parties. 

Meanwhile, Brown stubbornly stuck to his lines about the Tories "taking £6bn out of the economy"; about Lord Ashcroft; about "record investment"; and so on.  He'll repeat these soundbites and claims, ad nauseam, for the next few weeks.  But there's already something tired and decrepit about them.  That "£6bn out of the economy" claim, in particular, is unlikely to convince many people who are set to gain from the Tories' flagship tax cut.