Today’s PMQs were lively as expected with the main focus being on the government’s proposed one per cent benefit cut, especially its effect on the working poor. The Tories were also gleeful about the numbers released this morning showing that unemployment figures were going down – but, as we know, that doesn’t tell the full story of unemployment. For me, biggest surprise was how personal and vindictive David Cameron behaved today, especially towards Ed Balls.
It was a very intense exchange between Cameron and Ed Miliband with lots of jeers and boos from both sides of the house. The first question from Miliband seemed quite awkward with him reluctantly having to congratulate the government on unemployment. But from the second question on, Ed really was on fire over the benefits cap – he tried to get Cameron to admit that the majority of people affected by the cap are in work, but he just dodged the question. Miliband came back with solid stats to back up his point that the majority affected are in work. He attempted to frame the cap as a ‘tax on strivers’ – what the benefit cap effectively is for people in work.
Cameron’s responses to Miliband on the ‘tax on strivers’ line was to repeatedly state that government was taking low-wage earners out of paying income tax. Another main theme of Cameron’s answers was to frame Labour as the ‘pro-welfare’, without reform, party, a common misperception of Labour which we must be careful to get away from – if Cameron gets that message across to the public it is bad news for Labour.
What struck me was the personal hatred Cameron had for Balls. With a few off-the-cuff remarks, including calling him a bully, it got rather personal and nasty. This made Cameron appear aggressive and, to an extent, unprofessional. Miliband seemed to be on the ball today and able to easily cite relevant statistics in his responses with some quite witty lines. I will have to give the winner of today’s PMQs to Miliband based on his performance – but that’s not to say we have won the debate on the benefit cap.
This is a tricky one as plenty of good questions were asked, though many were about the unemployment figures or the benefit cap. Emily Thornberry asked an important question on child poverty and it was also good to hear from new MP Lucy Powell. I think the winner will have to be Dennis Skinner, even though I often disagree with him politically. He asked a question on the proposed new surveillance laws and said it would mean the government spying on more people than the press barons – which got his point over very well.
I have to give it to Miliband for his joke about the Bullingdon Club after Cameron insulted Balls: ‘the boy from the Bullingdon Club lectures on bullying – extraordinary’. Miliband then went on to remark if he ‘smashed any restaurants recently’.
Simon Evans is a member of Progress. He tweets @SimonEvans117
Photo: UK Parliament
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