Pre-budget sparring

It was inevitable on budget day that PMQs would be dominated by questions relating to the budget. A flurry of pointed questions from Labour backbenchers on the 50p top rate of tax left David Cameron repeating the line that when Labour put the top rate of tax up millionaires paid £7bn less in taxation. This was to the frustration of Labour MPs, who, after pleas from the speaker to listen to the prime minister’s response to Gloria De Piero’s question, could be heard shouting that ‘he doesn’t answer’. Overall, Cameron got an easy ride today, being left stuttering only once when Andy McDonald brought up the prime minister’s old Twitter gaffe, asking if, in the light of the chancellor joining Twitter this morning, could he remind him what too many tweets make.

Who won?

There really was no winner today. After being left reeling last week from Labour’s coordinated attack, Cameron returned to PMQs calm and in control. Matching this, Ed Miliband chose to ask his questions in two parts, focusing first on the levy in Cyprus and then the situation in Syria. He made the perceptive point that through Cyprus’ levy on savings trust would be lost in banks, and pulled the prime minister up short on the issue. Cameron had nothing to say other than a repetition of the line on the government’s stance. On Syria, Ed pressed the PM on the government’s plan to seek a relaxation of the UN’s arms embargo, highlighting the concern that the opposition in Syria is divided and asking what steps are being taken to facilitate negotiations between the two forces. Cameron side-stepped the questions, arguing that ‘current policies aren’t working for the people of Syria’ and comparing the situation in Syria now to the situation in Bosnia in the 1990s. A remarkably calm exchange this week gave the issues the respect they deserved and left both the prime minister and Ed looking like statesmen.

Best joke, comment, question or answer?

Chi Onwurah powerfully broke down the finances of one of her young, striving constituents and highlighted the realities of the government’s cuts on people who want to improve their situation.

After a sea of questions on budget matters, one of the most interesting questions came from Tom Greatrex. His question ‘Does the prime minister agree with me that it’s time to take the lead and end the scandal of the 2.5 million people in modern-day slavery or prostitution as a result of people trafficking?’ was largely dodged by Cameron who stated that action needed to be taken but failed to detail what that action should be. Despite the lacklustre answer, it was good to see the often-neglected issue being brought up.

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Catherine Vallis is a member of Progress. She tweets @CateVallis

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