David Cameron’s new strategy director, Andrew Cooper, recently advised him to be “a national leader, rather than a party politician. Especially in the Commons.” On the basis of today’s PMQs, Cameron appears to have rejected that advice. He denounced Ed Miliband’s weekend reference to the suffragettes as “nonsense”, told one Labour MP: “I’ve no idea who you are”, and described Ed Balls as “the most annoying person in modern politics”.
Labour’s Keynesian Rottweiler will have enjoyed that attack. It confirms that he has an unrivalled ability to infuriate the Tories.
The personal gibes began early on. After Cameron wished Miliband and his new fiancée a “long and happy life together”, the Labour leader replied that he would ask the PM for “advice on stag nights”, because he knows “how to organise a good one”. To which the sharp-tongued Cameron responded, “When I was leader of the opposition I would have given anything for a honeymoon . . . he probably wishes he had, too.”
The exchanges were memorable enough to overshadow some sharp questions from Miliband on tuition fees and police cuts.
Cameron was unable to tell the House how many universities so far plan to charge £9,000 a year (the answer is 18) and appeared not to know whether student numbers would be cut as a result of the £1bn black hole.
Instead, he made the irrelevant point that institutions will only be allowed to charge £9,000 if the Office for Fair Access approves. He shamelessly dodged the funding question.
Miliband also had the better of the exchanges on police cuts, with Cameron merely stating that there was “no reason why” there should be few officers. The PM in effect passed the buck and said that police numbers would not fall if local forces made greater efficiency savings. Cameron only managed to get the upper hand when he referred to the “ridiculous spectacle” of the Labour leader “marching against the cuts that his party caused”.
It’s also worth noting Cameron’s comments on NHS funding. When the Labour MP Chris Leslie pointed out that higher inflation means the coalition is close to breaking its pledge to protect the health budget, Cameron simply replied: “We said we would increase health spending in real terms – and we will.” In other words, spending will be raised to compensate for higher inflation. This is one promise that the PM intends to keep.
UPDATE: You can now watch footage of the Balls-Cameron clash above. (Hat-tip: Liar Politicians)