David Cameron speaks during a joint news conference with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Downing Street in central London on June 19, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Cameron scrapes a dirty win

The PM's blast at Miliband over tomorrow's strike secured him victory. 

As so often, David Cameron left it until the end of his exchange with Ed Miliband to play his trump card. In reference to Labour's contorted position on tomorrow's public sector strike, he observed that the party had briefed that it would not support the walk-out, but also that it would not condemn it. It was pure opportunism from the PM (Miliband had asked him about A&E waiting times) but in an otherwise evenly matched contest it was enough to give him victory. The Tories intend to make Miliband's alleged indecisiveness and weakness one of the central themes of their general election campaign and Cameron offered a succinct preview today: "Is he remotely up to the job? No."

The session began with Miliband asking the PM three statesmanlike questions on the child abuse inquiries, having chosen not to query the appointment of Elizabeth Butler-Sloss (whose brother was attorney general at the time many of the allegations were first made) to head the independent panel. After Cameron promised to consider the NSPCC's call for a new mandatory reporting law he moved on to the NHS, Labour's main campaigning issue for the summer. 

Miliband brandished the House of Commons Library's correction of Cameron's claims on A&E waiting times, but trying to win an argument on statistics at PMQs is like trying to win an argument on the internet: it never works. The most notable moment came when Cameron declared that Miliband had made "a massive mistake keeping a failing health secretary as the shadow health spokesman", prompting Miliband to say of Andy Burnham (one of those regarded by Labour MPs as positioning himself for a future leadership contest): "I'd far rather have the shadow health secretary than their health secretary any day of the week." 

As well as his blast at Labour over tomorrow's strike (he later confirmed to Tory MP Dominic Raab that a minimum threshold law would be included in the Conservative manifesto), Cameron used his final answer to plunge the depths of political combat as he said Miliband still "has to defend the man who presided over the Mid-Staffs disgrace." Though it is now hard to recall, when the Francis Report into the hospital scandal was published, Cameron endorsed its conclusion that Burnham bore no blame. That he has now been forced to deploy this ad hominem attack is evidence of how weak the Tories' position on the NHS has become. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: André Spicer
Show Hide image

“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.