PMQs review: Cameron leaves the Tories wanting more

The PM demolished Miliband as he declared that the Labour leader had "impersonated more politicians than Rory Bremner".

After a series of unnoteworthy exchanges between David Cameron and Ed Miliband on Gaza and the NHS, today's PMQs came to life right at the end. After Miliband declared that "the people of Corby spoke for the country", Cameron replied that "the people of Humberside spoke for the entire nation", a reference to John Prescott's defeat in last week's police and crime commissioner elections, which Prescott unfortunately described as "a referendum on everything the coalition has done".

This artful riposte prompted cheers from Tory MPs, with Cameron responding, "happily, there is more". And there was. After noting that Miliband had invoked Disraeli, compared himself to Thatcher, described himself as more eurosceptic than Bill Cash, and more pro-European than Tony Blair, he quipped: "he's impersonated more politicians than Rory Bremner, but this time the joke's on him". It was Cameron's best line for months and as the PM sat down, Tory MPs cried, "more! more!

Until that point, Miliband had had the better of the exchanges, with Cameron unable to answer the charge that he had broken his promise to prevent rationing on cost in the NHS. As the PM leaned over to Andrew Lansley, Miliband quipped, "don't ask him for advice, you sacked him!" But the Labour leader then unwisely segued into last week's elections, allowing Cameron to deliver his knockout blow.

David Cameron leaves Stormont Castle in Belfast, Northern Ireland on 20 November 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.