PMQs sketch: Humps and u-turns for a puce PM

Dizzy Dave defends his latest backtrack.

It is befitting for someone who went to Eton and Oxford that when they get the hump they should not be restricted to the common or garden dromedary variety but instead move on immediately to the bactrian.

So it was that David Cameron adopted the two-hump approach to Prime Ministers Questions as he tried yet again, and failed yet again, to defend the government’s latest u-turn on the Budget-from-hell of 2012.

Scoring a goal against him at PMQs has become a bit like taking part in a penalty shoot-out (pause for private grief) when the keeper has decided to pop out for a ciggy.

But that was never going to deter Ed Miliband who is getting better by the week at putting the boot into the boot-boy.

Cheered on lustily by those who just months ago had their own leadership doubts, Ed charged Dave with “panic at the pumps” over the sudden decision yesterday to postpone plans to stick an extra 3p tax on fuel just milli-seconds after the Sun had published and backed just such a call from Ed Balls.

The Prime Minister used to take a while letting everything above his collar turn various shades of puce but now he saves time by turning up already sporting the necessary colour.

Indeed had a stove-pipe been fixed to his head he was generating enough steam to give a passing imitation of a stationary Flying Scot, with suitable apologies to anyone offended north of the border.

As Dave tried to shout his way out of his latest embarrassment the man behind it all, Chancellor George, could only sit strategically out of reach down the government’s front bench and join his erstwhile BF in that most wonderfully descriptive verb “to squirm”.

They were joined by Ttransport secretary Justine Greening, who Ed named as just one of the many members of the cabinet who had not been been told in advance of Dave’s conversion over his cornflakes.

That just left the serried ranks of Tory MPs, who only yesterday received a note from HQ telling them how to defend the decision to put the tax up, to explain why it had now joined pasties and caravans on the government’s not-to-do list.

As the two party leaders squared up for the angry contest it would have taken a keen-eyed observer to note an oasis of calm, indeed an oasis of indifference which occupied the seat just to the right of the Prime Minister.

Step forward Deputy PM Nick Clegg who appeared to have sent his body along to PMQs but kept the thinking bit at home to do more useful things.

To be fair to Nick he had spent some time earlier in the day talking about the real challenges facing unemployed young people in the forgotten areas of the land like South Tyneside where jobs just do not exist.

Obviously surveys have been done and those in the North East with the dole as their only career option need help and encouragement and, or so it would appear to the Deputy Prime Minister, a reformed House of Lords.

Whether they talk of little else along the banks of the Tyne is not made fully clear but at least Nick has let it be known that this is where he will be concentrating his attention in the coming months, if not years.

The ungallant suggest that Lib Dem concern over the Lords is based on securing a home for their MPs who expect to be shafted by the electorate come 2015.

But whatever the reason the whole issue has all the makings of the next issue to get the paramedics out early checking on Dave’s blood pressure.

In his haste to get into Downing Street the Prime Minister promised Tory support for Nick’s reform but that was before his party realized the price that had to be paid for power.

With dozens of Tory rebels ready to do down the plan it is now up to Ed M to work out how to play the issue to his advantage; there are points of principle but expect those to be ignored.

Talking of which, Banquo’s ghost was out and about in Kensington.

Wearing his Tony Blair disguise he admitted he would like to be Prime Minister again, but added: “It’s not likely to happen.”

NB. Dave and Ed: He never said never.

Prime Minister David Cameron. Image: Getty Images

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Theresa May shows how her confidence has grown

After her Brexit speech, the PM declared of Jeremy Corbyn: "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue". 

The woman derided as “Theresa Maybe” believes she has neutralised that charge. Following her Brexit speech, Theresa May cut a far more confident figure at today's PMQs. Jeremy Corbyn inevitably devoted all six of his questions to Europe but failed to land a definitive blow.

He began by denouncing May for “sidelining parliament” at the very moment the UK was supposedly reclaiming sovereignty (though he yesterday praised her for guaranteeing MPs would get a vote). “It’s not so much the Iron Lady as the irony lady,” he quipped. But May, who has sometimes faltered against Corbyn, had a ready retort. The Labour leader, she noted, had denounced the government for planning to leave the single market while simultaneously seeking “access” to it. Yet “access”, she went on, was precisely what Corbyn had demanded (seemingly having confused it with full membership). "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue,” she declared.

When Corbyn recalled May’s economic warnings during the referendum (“Does she now disagree with herself?”), the PM was able to reply: “I said if we voted to leave the EU the sky would not fall in and look at what has happened to our economic situation since we voted to leave the EU”.

Corbyn’s subsequent question on whether May would pay for single market access was less wounding than it might have been because she has consistently refused to rule out budget contributions (though yesterday emphasised that the days of “vast” payments were over).

When the Labour leader ended by rightly hailing the contribution immigrants made to public services (“The real pressure on public services comes from a government that slashed billions”), May took full opportunity of the chance to have the last word, launching a full-frontal attack on his leadership and a defence of hers. “There is indeed a difference - when I look at the issue of Brexit or any other issues like the NHS or social care, I consider the issue, I set out my plan and I stick to it. It's called leadership, he should try it some time.”

For May, life will soon get harder. Once Article 50 is triggered, it is the EU 27, not the UK, that will take back control (the withdrawal agreement must be approved by at least 72 per cent of member states). With MPs now guaranteed a vote on the final outcome, parliament will also reassert itself. But for now, May can reflect with satisfaction on her strengthened position.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.