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Wednesday 29 January 2014

PMQs – Itch-A-Sketch 4

It’s that time of week again, folks: when Young Dave and Mil The Younger face off across the Dispatch Box, backbench Tory MPs engage in their customary softball grovelfest, Labour try and trip Cameron up, and Dennis Skinner practices his stand-ups. We’ve got refugees, economic growth, flooding, and maybe food banks, bankers and Scots in today’s prospective topics. So eyes down and look in.
The volume is back up! It’s getting rowdy! The Speaker called for Mr Robertson to “calm yourself”! Well, thank goodness for that. I thought they’d all come down with some kind of courteousness virus.

Yes, there was flooding, with Lib Dems Jeremy Browne and David Heath getting Prime Ministerial agreement on action, and commitment that Something Must Be Done, not just to clear the water that has been there all month, but for the future. That much was agreeable stuff.

So was the response to Sheila Gilmore on the case of Mohammad Ashgar, the unfortunate man who has been sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy, even though he has mental health issues. Dave has got Sayeeda Warsi on the case. This was another safe area.

Even the National Minimum Wage and its enforcement were successfully negotiated, with Cameron telling Labour MPs Andy Sawford and Debbie Abrahams that he wanted to see more prosecutions for non-compliance.

But where he had to deflect and rabbit, and showed himself getting testy, was on that nasty top Income Tax rate. And Miiliband delivered his six off the reel today, persistently challenging Dave to confirm whether he would rule out a cut to 40p – or not. Cameron didn’t like this at all. It was all Labour’s fault. Jobs were up. Tax coming in was up. So nothing was up. Except the game was up.

So far this year, Mil The Younger has not found the range with his probing of the PM. This time, despite taunts of “anti-growth” and “anti-business”, he stuck doggedly to that one point: his side had committed to a 50p rate, it was genuinely popular, and what was Dave going to do? The answer never came. But Miliband knows it won’t come. Worse for Cameron, he knows he can’t possibly give it.

Despite the softball – particularly grovelling moments came this week from Chloe Smith, James Paice, Laura Sandys, and a stonking brown noser from Gerald Howarth – the leader of the opposition edged that one.

Batting away Ian Murray, Steve Rotheram and Lisa Nandy may have cheered Dave up a bit. Getting a topical reference to Penny Mordaunt appearing on Splash! may have cheered him a little more. But he looked peevish when pressed.

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