PMQs review: Cameron is losing the economic argument

The PM could not rebut Miliband's charge that his growth strategy is failing.

Never has David Cameron's defence of the government's economic strategy sounded as weak as it did at today's PMQs. Ed Miliband devoted all six of his questions to the subject and came off better each time. Confronted by the worst unemployment figures since 1994, the Prime Minister could only repeat his tired insistence that a change of course would bankrupt Britain.

"You cannot borrow your way out of a debt crisis," he declared but as Miliband reminded him, "to have a credible plan on the deficit, he has to have a credible plan on growth". George Osborne has already been forced to announce £44.4bn of extra borrowing due to lower tax revenues and higher welfare payments.

Cameron hurled criticisms of Labour's economic policy at Miliband, citing Charles Clarke, Alistair Darling and, finally, Digby Jones (which doesn't even qualify as an argument from authority). The Prime Minister, it seems, is taking refuge in consensus. But as any student of the Herbert Hoover administration knows, the received wisdom of the day is often wrong. Cameron should derive no comfort from the endorsement of others. His failure to rebut Miliband's central charge that the government's growth strategy is failing was a sign that he is losing the argument.

Sounding unfortunately bunged up, Miliband still landed several blows on the PM. Reminding him that 400,000 firms were expected to take part in Osborne's National Insurance holiday, he forced a blushing Cameron to admit that just 7,000 had, before neatly seguing into the Liam Fox story. Cameron, he said, was doing everything he could to save the Defence Secretary's job but doing nothing to save the jobs of ordinary men and women."It's one rule if you're in the cabinet, it's another rule for everyone else," he cried.

Asked by Labour MP Pat Glass if a minister should resign if he or she breaks the ministerial code, Cameron replied that it was up to the Prime Minister to decide, confirming that he does not view a breach as grounds for automatic dismissal. He shows every sign of wanting to hold on to Fox but insisted that he would await the conclusion of Gus O'Donnell's investigation. But with the economic situation only likely to worsen, the Defence Secretary's troubles will soon be the least of Cameron's worries.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

The joy of only winning once: why England should be proud of 1966

We feel the glory of that triumphant moment, 50 years ago, all the more because of all the other occasions when we have failed to win.

There’s a phrase in football that I really hate. It used to be “Thirty years of hurt”. Each time the England team crashes out of a major tournament it gets regurgitated with extra years added. Rather predictably, when England lost to Iceland in Euro 2016, it became “Fifty years of hurt”. We’ve never won the European Championship and in 17 attempts to win the World Cup we have only won once. I’m going to tell you why that’s a record to cherish.

I was seven in 1966. Our telly was broken so I had to watch the World Cup final with a neighbour. I sat squeezed on my friend Colin’s settee as his dad cheered on England with phrases like “Sock it to them Bobby”, as old fashioned now as a football rattle. When England took the lead for the second time I remember thinking, what will it feel like, when we English are actually Champions of the World. Not long after I knew. It felt good.

Wembley Stadium, 30 July 1966, was our only ever World Cup win. But let’s imagine what it would be like if, as with our rivals, we’d won it many times? Brazil have been World Champions on five occasions, Germany four, and Italy four. Most England fans would be “over the moon” if they could boast a similarly glorious record. They’re wrong. I believe it’s wonderful that we’ve only triumphed once. We all share that one single powerful memory. Sometimes in life less is definitely more.

Something extraordinary has happened. Few of us are even old enough to remember, but somehow, we all know everything that happened that day. Even if you care little about the beautiful game, I’m going to bet that you can recall as many as five iconic moments from 50 years ago. You will have clearly in your mind the BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme’s famous lines, as Geoff Hurst tore down the pitch to score his hat-trick: “Some people are on the pitch. They think it’s all over. It is now”. And it was. 4 - 2 to England against West Germany. Thirty minutes earlier the Germans had equalised in the dying moments of the second half to take the game to extra time.

More drama we all share: Geoff Hurst’s second goal. Or the goal that wasn’t, as technology has since, I think, conclusively proved. The shot that crashed off the cross bar and did or didn’t cross the line. Of course, even if you weren’t alive at the time, you will know that the linesman, one Tofiq Bakhramov, from Azerbaijan (often incorrectly referred to as “Russian”) could speak not a word of English, signalled it as a goal.

Then there’s the England Captain, the oh-so-young and handsome Bobby Moore. The very embodiment of the era. You can picture him now wiping his muddy hands on his white shorts before he shakes hands with a youthful Queen Elizabeth. Later you see him lifted aloft by his team mates holding the small golden Jules Rimet trophy.

How incredible, how simply marvellous that as a nation we share such golden memories. How sad for the Brazilians and Germans. Their more numerous triumphs are dissipated through the generations. In those countries each generation will remember each victory but not with the intensity with which we English still celebrate 1966. It’s as if sex was best the first time. The first cut is the deepest.

On Colin’s dad’s TV the pictures were black and white and so were the flags. Recently I looked at the full colour Pathe newsreel of the game. It’s the red, white and blue of the Union Jack that dominates. The red cross of Saint George didn’t really come into prominence until the Nineties. The left don’t like flags much, unless they’re “deepest red”. Certainly not the Union Flag. It smacks of imperialism perhaps. In 1966 we didn’t seem to know if we were English or British. Maybe there was, and still is, something admirable and casual about not knowing who we are or what is our proper flag. 

Twelve years later I’m in Cuba at the “World Festival of Youth” – the only occasion I’ve represented my country. It was my chance to march into a stadium under my nation’s flag. Sadly, it never happened as my fellow delegates argued for hours over what, if any, flag we British should walk behind. The delegation leaders – you will have heard of them now, but they were young and unknown then – Peter Mandelson, Trevor Phillips and Charles Clarke, had to find a way out of this impasse. In the end, each delegation walked into the stadium behind their flag, except the British. Poor Mandelson stood alone for hours holding Union Jack, sweltering in the tropical sun. No other country seemed to have a problem with their flag. I guess theirs speak of revolution; ours of colonialism.

On Saturday 30 July BBC Radio 2 will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1966 World Cup Final, live from Wembley Arena. Such a celebration is only possible because on 16 occasions we failed to win that trophy. Let’s banish this idea of “Fifty years of hurt” once and for all and embrace the joy of only winning once.

Phil Jones edits the Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2. On Saturday 30 July the station celebrates the 50th anniversary of the 1966 World Cup Final live from Wembley Arena, telling the story of football’s most famous match, minute by minuteTickets are available from: www.wc66.org