A particularly lively and noisy prime minister’s questions in the run-up to the spending review today. Ed Miliband delivered a strong performance shifting the focus of discussion to the government’s vast under-delivery on its plentiful promises. As ever, David Cameron responded to almost all critiques blaming the previous Labour administration on all of his problems and woes.
A dozen times today the prime minister hammered home: Labour is responsible for the economic mess, they cannot be trusted with the economy always spending too much and this is why we are suffering badly. It is a strong message which is working, however wrong this the case may be. Many families across the UK on the doorstep seem to believe Labour is just irresponsible with the economy frivolously spending far too much.
This is dangerous and needs to be countered by a strong Labour frontbench. Miliband may today have coined a new message which may in fact be a winner as we come ever closer to 2015: the Conservatives haven’t delivered in the past, so why should they deliver in the future? As we get closer to 2015, the public may grow tired of Cameron’s sole message which is repeated over and over again and after five years of Conservative-led government will question whether this is as a result of Cameron’s policies which are failing or whether it is still Gordon Brown to blame for this government’s failed policies.
Miliband started today’s duel by asking Cameron how many of the 261 infrastructure projects promised by Michael Gove had begun. Cameron dodged the question seemingly not knowing the exact answer. Miliband informed him that ‘just one’ of the 261 schools had begun. He then followed up by asking how many of the 100,000 new homes promised under the NewBuy scheme have actually been built. Again, Cameron offered no answer. Miliband responded by informing him just 2,000 of the 100,000 have been built and that it would take him right up to the year 2058 to meet his target. This was followed by examples of more failed pledges and under-delivered promises.
Miliband even cited the deputy prime minister reminding Cameron that only yesterday Nick Clegg had said ‘the gap between announcement and delivery is quite significant’, thereby also exposing cracks within the coalition. Cameron defended his policy on capital spending by shouting that ‘our spending on capital spending is higher than Labour planned’. This was immediately followed by criticising the previous Labour government for its investment in capital spending, rendering his point invalid.
All in all, a vociferous debate and many good questions asked today. The prime minister was caught red-faced and on many occasions he blustered, which led to a masterclass in making cheap jokes in response to serious questions.
Miliband delivered an unparalleled performance today at PMQs, forcing the prime minister to sidestep questions whose answers he did not know. Frankly, it is embarrassing if only just one of the 261 schools promised to be built have been. It is unforgivable if it is true only 2,000 of 100,000 houses promised have been built.
This was not Cameron’s worst performance to date but one which was overshadowed by his evasion to questions rather than answering them. Jokes, such as his jibe about Miliband belonging on Sesame Street rather than Downing Street, is just not very statesmanlike. From a once-aspiring prime minister who said he will ‘end Punch and Judy politics’ in Britain, he is definitely not sticking to that pledge.
On the other hand, Miliband needs to be more careful about constantly pointing out George Osborne that is borrowing billions more than initially planned. Borrowing is not always bad and the next Labour government will need to borrow for growth, as opposed to the coalition is borrowing solely to meet the cost of the failure its policies and their implementation. The party must find an easy-to-understand message on this which is consistent and which resonates.
Best question, answer, comment or joke?
Labour MP William Bain said to Cameron: ‘In October 2010, the prime minister told the Conservative party conference: in five years’ time, we will have balanced the books … That promise is going to be broken, isn’t it prime minister?’ This was the best question of the day and highlighted further the under-delivery of promises by the Conservative party.
Meanwhile, after many non-answers to Miliband from Cameron’s, the Labour leader responded by declaring New Labour’s achievements in power which was received with a roar of cheers by the Labour benches. These achievements included ‘100 new hospitals, 3,700 schools rebuilt and 3,500 new children’s centres’ – while the current government has only started just one of the 261 school infrastructure projects promised by Gove.
Gurjinder Dhaliwal is a member of Progress
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.