Fraser Nelson

Their minds were elsewhere

Their minds were elsewhere
Text settings

How Brown must have loved reading out his day’s business at PMQs: meeting with President Obama, then his counterparts from Russia, China and Japan. For months, he will have been dreaming about today like a four-year-old dreams about Christmas. All the world leaders, all here in London – and Brown playing the statesman.

Then Edward Garnier has to lower the tone of national rejoicing by raising the Lord Myners and asking Brown if he realises his ministers are “held in ridicule and contempt” by the public. “I see he has risen to the occasion of today,” noted Brown in a more-in-sorrow-than-anger way. Here is he, saving the world – and these Tories talking about grubby little things like lying ministers.

So what would Cameron go on? “Can I ask the PM about the issue of MPs expenses?” There was silence at this point, as there is so much guilt on all benches, it’s a subject seldom raised in the chamber. Some MPs groaned as Cameron called for meetings on an urgent review.

Brown said he was happy to meet, but the Committee in Standards in Public Life “will have to complete their review as well.” Nonsense, replied Cameron, you don’t need a review – just political leadership.

Then a wide smile came to Brown’s face. “Mr Speaker, he had written his question before he heard my first answer,” he said, gleefully. He’s happy to meet Cameron and Clegg. But the Committee must be satisfied. “We can all hear the rustling of the long grass, that’s the problem,” replied Cameron. Then to the G20. For all the talk about protectionism, it’s going up he said. What’s the point?

Brown said the 1929 crash was followed by a 1945 meeting, and “we won’t wait 16 years, we are taking action now.” In his delusional head, this G20 is a new Bretton Woods (which, incidentally, took place in July 1944). “We are in the middle of the biggest fiscal stimulus the world has ever seen, and only the Conservatives seem to be opposing this,” he says. The Tories are the ‘do nothing’ party. Cameron’s response was excellent, worth recording in full.

“This ‘do nothing’ attack has done absolutely nothing for him. Ever since he stared making it, he’s been going down and we’ve been going up. It says nothing about us and a lot about him and his dividing line politics of the past. Of course other countries who did fix the roof while the sun was shining can afford a stimulus. But Britain is spending £4 for every £3 we raise – this is a domestic problem and no summit will solve it."

Cameron is right: the public are alarmed by the debt Brown is saddling them with, and the mood is changing. They actually think the state is already spending too much – the subject of my political column tomorrow. Anyway, back to Brown. “This is about lives, about homes, about jobs, about business,” Brown replies. Dead right: that’s why he’ll lose the next election. John Lloyd (Lab, Manchester Central) popped up later to talk in dark tones about the last unemployment of the 1980s from “failed economic policies”. Doesn’t he realise this time it will be much worse? 3.5m plus 3m hidden unemployed?

Two other highlights. One: David Heathcoat Armory asking Brown if he remembered selling 400 tonnes of gold in 2002. “Given that the price of gold is four or five times higher now than when he made those sales, what does that tell us about the PM’s ability to run any other aspect of the British economy?” Brown replied that “we bought Euros and they have gone up in value,” as if this were some withering put-down. I wonder if, even to himself, he realises that it’s sterling’s value that has crashed – because he trashed the UK economy?

Then Alistair Burt (Con, NE Bedfordshire) asked why no businesses in his constituency were getting any of the “real help” Brown proposed. The cash has been agreed, said Brown. 100,000 companies “will be receiving help.” But they’re not now – and this could become a major story.  Bloomberg has spotted that just 1% of the £15.4bn promised support and loan guarantees have been realised.  It’s a growing scandal, which has yet to blow up.

Amazing to see Eric Joyce (Lab, Falkirk West) show his face after clocking up the highest expenses in the House (£187k). He asked Brown to agree what a good idea the minimum wage was. But in a bust, we must remember the flip side to the minimum wage: it renders unemployed anyone whose skills are not worth £5.73 an hour. Youth unemployment has risen since it was introduced.

All told, Brown had this “we’re off to see the wizard” spring in his step, going back to his old trap of looking gleeful in the recession. Cameron struck the right tone, but it wasn’t a vintage performance. He hotfooted it out of the door at 12.30pm – his meeting with Obama is scheduled for 1pm and needs to beat the traffic, protesters and security to get there. So Cameron’s priority today was simple: be rude to Brown, grab autograph book, and get out the door.

Written byFraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is the editor of The Spectator. He is also a columnist with The Daily Telegraph, a member of the advisory board of the Centre for Social Justice and the Centre for Policy Studies.

Topics in this articlePolitics