Not even that Evan Davis at the BBC can bend these statistics
23:38 GMT, 12 December 2012
00:52 GMT, 13 December 2012
Amid all the bawling and honking and (false) hatred and general ape-whooping baloney of the Commons circus, something notable happened at Prime Minister’s Questions. We saw crystallisation of a policy tussle which may decide the next general election.
Repeatedly, David Cameron and Edward Miliband disagreed over welfare payments. Mr Miliband wanted them higher. The Government’s policy of limiting benefit rises to just one per cent was an ‘injustice’.
Mr Cameron preferred to cut taxes for low-paid workers. Yes, it was politically tricky to limit welfare, but that was the only answer to national recovery. As Gavin Barwell (Con, Croydon C) put it near the end, lots of workers’ wages have been frozen in recent years. Why should welfare claimants do better than people who only have a pay packet to see them through the week
Mr Miliband wants welfare payments to be higher. But why should welfare claimants do better than people who only have a pay packet to see them through the week
There you have it: Labour’s bigger benefits or the Tories’ lower taxes There lies the centre ground of British politics. If voters decide they want benefits claimants to have more moolah, Miliband moves to 10 Downing Street and Ed Balls (if he has not completely blown a gasket by then) will be in No 11.
Yesterday’s PMQs was held shortly after we learned the latest unemployment figures. These, again, were weirdly good. There had been another drop in joblessness.
Ministers wore dazed, happy expressions. They did not quite do what those North Korean newscasters did when celebrating the launch of their country’s rocket but they certainly looked chuffed. Not even that Evan Davis bloke at the BBC can bend these employment statistics to Labour’s advantage, can he
Mr Miliband started PMQs by going into ‘yes, but . . .’ mode over the unemployment news. Mr Cameron recalled that back in January, Mr Miliband confidently predicted that unemployment would increase this year. Hadn’t quite happened like that, had it
Mr Cameron was unable to resist taking a swipe at Ed Balls
Even by PMQs’ standards, the noise levels were mad. Squeaker Bercow sat back in his Chair like a man at a disco who can’t hear a word people are saying to him. A look of moony, serene disengagement fell on Mr Bercow’s Byronic chops. Perhaps he was dreaming of the demure Sally.
Mr Balls, who only last week complained about Tories heckling him (the brutish, bruiting beasts!), was sitting opposite Mr Cameron, screaming his head off. Mr Cameron was unable to resist taking a swipe at Ballsy. ‘Like bullies all over the world, he can dish it out but he can’t take it,’ said the PM, to loopy roars of approval from the Government benches. To make this point Mr Cameron had to strain his voice, so high were the decibels coming from the Opposition benches.
Mr Miliband replied by saying that it was rum for a former member of Oxford University’s Bullingdon club to talk about bullies. ‘Have you wrecked a restaurant recently’ he yelled at Mr Cameron. Ah yes, Miliband the Che Guevara of Hampstead!
At one point Mr Cameron’s face pinkened – it came just after he had taken a swipe at Mr Miliband for heckling him. (Mr Bercow, it should be explained, was still doing his rigid-man routine in the Chair.)
Labour’s Chief Whip, Rosie Winterton, and the Shadow Leader of the House, Angela Eagle, reacted to the Cameron blush by patting their cheeks with both hands, repeatedly, at high speed. Harriet Harman, beside them, showed little more sign of life than a Land Rover battery on a cold morning.
Near the end of the Government bench, Education Secretary Michael Gove kept doing jabbing gestures, as though he was an infantryman on bayonet drill. He did this every time Mr Cameron skewered Mr Miliband with his arguments about lower bottom-rate taxes being preferable to higher benefits handouts.
A few places along from Mr Gove sat the Lib Dem Vince Cable, Business Secretary. Ed Miliband quoted some remarks attributed to Mr Cable which sounded pretty rude about the Tories. Mr Cable, surrounded by his Tory ministerial colleagues, glowed with satisfaction. I wonder what his position is on benefits and taxes.