Fraser Nelson

Wednesday Whoppers

Wednesday Whoppers
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Cameron said it should be called Prime Minister’s U-Turn, not PMQs. I disagree. It should be renamed Wednesday Whoppers or – as we say here in CoffeeHouse – Brownies. A new one was minted – involving a claim that 600,000 is “almost a million”. Plenty of Brownies aired. Let’s get stuck in.

Brown’s PMQs now start with a Labour backbencher asking the most poisonous question of the day, in hope of denying the Opposition the chance to do it. Cameron just asks what he wants even if it is a repeat. But this lets Brown make his peace with backbenches before Cameron gets stuck in.

Hilariously, Brown started by trashing the 10p tax band he introduced – unfair, he says, 85% of the benefits go to the richest. He is just making himself look stupid. Most in that chamber remember him introducing this new band with much fanfare. Why did he do so, if it’s so regressive?

Cameron went on the “massive loss of authority” Brown has suffered in his farrago. “So can he tell us – is he making this changes because he thought he’d lose the vote next week?” Brown answers with a straight face “We have said for some time we would do more to help people in low income.” Priceless! So, entirely random timing – elections next week and all (thought: aren’t we supposed to be in purdah? Isn’t this an issue playing rather large on the doorsteps?)

The rest of it was pure Brownies.  “We are taking more people out of poverty than any previous government,” he said.  If that’s so, then why has the DWP delayed the latest child poverty figures until 2 May, the day after the local elections? I hear they’re pretty grim.

Brown then rightly quoted Cameron saying he wanted to simplify income tax. The Tories are inconsistent on this issue. “That is not the party that cares about a poor” says Brown. A poor? “That’s a party that puts more people in poverty” he finished. As I blogged earlier, it is Labour’s dependency culture that’s hurting the poor.

More garbled sentences.  “Why does he not admit that ... admit that ... that as a result of as our tax credits, which we opposed” – if only Labour had opposed them and concentrated on taking the poor out of tax altogether.

Then a shopping list of his self-acclaimed greatest hits, which must look so much better on a spreadsheet than it sounded in the chamber.

1) Two million pensioners because of the pension credit £40 a week better off since 1997

2) A million pensioners taken out of poverty

3) Nearly a million children taken out of poverty

4) Three million more jobs created.

5) Nearer to full employment than any time in our history

Woahhh! Here is one a new, whopping Brownie. A few weeks ago the Treasury said that 600,000 children had been “lifted out of poverty”. Since when was this “nearly a million?” Like the 3m employment figure, Brown is rounding up the nearest single digit! It is a breathtaking tactic, designed to exaggerate and mislead. But I consider the “full employment” claim the most monstrous Brownie for reasons I outlined here.

Of course this is all an arbitrary definition of “poverty” ie, 60%  percentage of the median income. Choose a different percentage – 65% or 55% - and the picture changes utterly. The Tories choose 40%, ie “deep poverty,” and say 600,000 more children are in this type of poverty since 1997. It’s a joke.

To me, this encompasses the shallow materialism at the heart of Labour’s failed anti- poverty strategy. There are so many better definitions of child poverty than whether your parents get extra tax credits. Exposure to violent crime, sink schools etc. Instead of trying to improve lives, Labour has been massaging statistics – all so Brown can stand up and rattle off these figures as he did in PMQs today. But Brown’s problem is that he is transmitting, but the nation isn’t receiving. No one believes him anymore.

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.

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