This week marks 50 years since the first PMQs (Harold Macmillan vs. Hugh Gaitskell, since you ask). So, by way of celebration, here are some of the most memorable moments from the weekly joust.
Blair on Major: “weak, weak, weak”
Here, from his clashes with John Major, are two of Tony Blair’s most artful put-downs. In the first clip from 25 May 1995, the young Labour leader taunts Major’s inability to control his anti-European backbenchers. “There is one very big difference – I lead my party, he follows his.” Major later described it in his memoirs as “the best one-liner he ever used against me”.
In the second from 30 January 1997 (again concerning Europe), Blair brands Major “weak, weak, weak” for failing to impose a joint line on the euro.
Cameron to Blair: “you were the future once”
And here’s the “heir to Blair” in action at his first PMQs, telling his rival “you were the future once” and reprimanding the Labour chief whip for “shouting like a child”.
Cable on Brown: “Stalin to Mr Bean”
It was Andrew Turnball, the former head of the civil service, who declared in March 2007 that Gordon Brown operated with “Stalinist ruthlessness“. But eight months later, after a run on Northern Rock, the loss of 25 million child benefit records and another donations scandal, the description no longer seemed so appropriate. Vince Cable, then acting leader of the Lib Dems, caught the mood when he quipped that Brown had gone “from Stalin to Mr Bean” in a matter of weeks.
Brown: “we saved the world”
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman memorably asked: “Has Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, saved the world financial system?” and answered in the affirmative. But Krugman’s praise appeared to have gone to Brown’s head when he told the Commons: “we saved the world”. His humourless response (Blair would have quipped “we’ll get round to that later”) only made matters worse.
Cameron to Angela Eagle: “calm down, dear!”
Finally, from earlier this year, here’s Cameron’s ill-advised riposte to Angela Eagle. For an idea of how the remark went down with the Lib Dems, just contrast Nick Clegg’s stony face with George Osborne’s guffawing.