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30 June 2010

Harman blasts Cameron over “secret” unemployment projections

Prime Minister ducks question as Clegg nods him on.

By James Macintyre

One miniature prologue on today’s Prime Minister’s Questions: John Bercow, the Speaker, called as the second questioner Nadine Dorries, the MP who has devoted much of her time to leading a failed coup attempt against him from the Tory back benches, about which you can read here. It shows that Bercow is in fact a very big man, and not a “stupid, sanctimonious little dwarf”, as the Tory health minister Simon Burns outrageously called him in the Commons yesterday (see Michael White’s piece on this, here).

Anyway, the session came alive when Harriet Harman, the acting Labour leader, demanded to know why David Cameron had not published what she called the “secret” Treasury figures predicting 1.3 million job losses as a result of the Budget, on which I blogged earlier.

Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, looked a little more stony-faced than usual, though he still nodded mildly to Cameron’s answers (Clegg must face a dilemma on how much to nod every time he sits with Cameron). George Osborne, meanwhile, had a strange kind of vacant, bemused, open-mouthed look on his face, as if to ask: “Who does this woman think she is?”

Cameron attempted to turn the tables on Harman, raising laughs when he read out details of spending in her former office on something called “peace pods” for relaxation. Harman shook her head and denied it, but Cameron cleverly pulled it out of the bag in his final answer, so she could not respond.

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Overall, Cameron sailed through again. But he has a style problem: he is still adopting the hectoring, slightly breathless tone that he did when he was leader of the opposition.

His front-benchers, too — especially Osborne — might be well advised to stop smirking when such issues as unemployment are being discussed. Clegg did better, and looked more serious, though he did appear to mutter a repeat of Cameron’s joke about “peace pods” when the Prime Minister sat down.

For more about Clegg and Cameron’s relationship, including the former’s mouthed comments to the latter in the Commons, look out for my politics column in this week’s magazine, out tomorrow.