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

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Who is responsible for an austerity violating human rights? Look to New Labour

Labour's record had started to improve under Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. 

The UN has made it clear the Government’s austerity programme breaches human rights. This is not because of spending cuts - it is because because those spending cuts target women and disadvantaged groups, particularly disabled people and asylum seekers.

The degree of injustice is staggering. The Coalition Government used a combination of tax increases and benefit cuts to reduce the net income of the poorest tenth of families by 9 per cent. The cuts faced by disabled people are even more extreme. For instance, more than half a million people have lost social care in England (a cut of over 30 per cent). Asylum seekers are now deprived of basic services.

The injustice is also extremely regional, with the deepest cuts falling on Labour heartlands. Today’s austerity comes after decades of decline and neglect by Westminster. Two places that will be most harmed by the next round of cuts are Blackpool (pictured) and Blackburn. These are also places where Labour saw its voters turn to UKIP in 2015, and where the Leave vote was strong.

Unscrupulous leaders don’t confront real problems, instead they offer people scapegoats. Today’s scapegoats are immigrants, asylum seekers, people from ethnic minorities and disabled people. It takes real courage, the kind of courage the late MP Jo Cox showed, not to appease this prejudice, but to challenge it.

The harm caused by austerity is no surprise to Labour MPs. The Centre for Welfare Reform, and many others, have been publishing reports describing the severity and unfairness of the cuts since 2010. Yet, during the Coalition Government, it felt as if Labour’s desire to appear "responsible" led  Labour to distance itself from disadvantaged groups. This austerity-lite strategy was an electoral disaster.

Even more worrying, many of the policies criticised by the UN were created by New Labour or supported by Labour in opposition. The loathed Work Capability Assessment, which is now linked to an increase in suicides, was first developed under New Labour. Only a minority of Labour MPs voted against many of the Government’s so-called "welfare reforms". 

Recently things appeared to improve. For instance, John McDonnell, always an effective ally of disabled people, had begun to take the Government to task for its attacks on the income’s of disabled people. Not only did the media get interested, but even some Tories started to rebel. This is what moral leadership looks like.

Now it looks like Labour is going to lose the plot again. Certainly, to be electable, Labour needs coherent policies, good communication and a degree of self-discipline. But more than this Labour needs to be worth voting for. Without a clear commitment to justice and the courage to speak out on behalf of those most disadvantaged, then Labour is worthless. Its support will disappear, either to the extreme Right or to parties that are prepared to defend human rights.

Dr Simon Duffy is the director of the Centre for Welfare Reform