PMQs as-it-happened

PMQs as-it-happens
PMQs as-it-happens
Ian Dunt By

11:37 - PMQs is back and it should be a good one. Ed Miliband needs to build on his conference success. David Cameron needs to stop him. And Andrew Mitchell needs to make it through with scrapes of his reputation intact. 

11:47 - If Mitchell can survive today, he will survive the pleb scandal. First he has the utter torment of PMQs, then a meeting of the 1922 backbench Conservative committee. It's made up of Tory MPs who are rather desperate to keep their seats. They won't take kindly to a row that plays directly into the public's very worst associations with the Conservative party. It's Labour which will have it's fingers crossed the hardest. The party needs to make a fuss about Mitchell, but not so much of a fuss that he actually leaves. It's far more useful to have him in post, perpetually ruining the Tories reputation. It also negates Cameron's 'class war' attack on Miliband.

11:52 - Welsh questions are just winding down. Alfyn Llwyd (Plaid, not an easy name to type) is pursuing David Jones (Con, Welsh secretary, more-than-a-little-creepy), like a sickly bulldog.

11:57 - The Chamber's pretty full up now. Albert Owen (Lab, bloated) wants a "level playing field with English ports". Unfortunate turn of phrase, sounds like a mixed metaphor.

12:01  - Guto Bebb (Con, great name, possibly mental) jabbers something about electrification of the North Wales Mainline. David Jones offers an answer in the form of a permanent drone.

12:02 - Mitchell has once again sat next to Lansley - a catastrophe of Andrews. And off we go. Cameron stands and pays tribute to fallen servicemen.

12:03 - Cameron looks smart and understated, wearing a blue (purple?) tie. Cameron also pays tribute to the two Manchester police officers murdered last month. And finally, Malcolm Wicks, the parliamentarian, who he says was a "man of great integrity and compassion - a thoroughly decent man". Finally, it's Sir Stuart Bell. "It's hard to believe he's not sat there in front of me," Cameron says. Murmurs of support.

12:04 - Willie Bain (Lab, prefect) gets the first question. Last week, the PM promised work would always pay, but the Children's Society say his universal credit means disabled people in work could lose money every work. Cameron always stands up for the wrong people, Bain says.

12:05 - Cameron says the issue is "extremely serious". He says the money in disability benefit will go up, not down. No recipient will lose out - all current recipients are cash-protected, but they are making sure future recipients will be affect - severely disabled get more, less disabled get less. Cameron deals with the question very well.

12:07 - Andrew George (Lib Dem, aged James Bond) praises the government for tackling bully buyers in the supermarket. Cameron says there were unfair practises, like retrospective discounts. Miliband is up. Here we go.

12:08 - Miliband makes his own tributes. He calls Wicks "one of the deepest thinkers in this House". He adds: "He faced his illness with the utmost bravery. My last conversation with him was just before our party conference."

12:09 - Interesting. Miliband mentions the unemployment figures, saying they are welcome. He asks why the fall this quarter are not matched by long-term unemployment. brave tactic. He neutralised Cameron's 'you haven't even mentioned unemployment' attack. Smart.

12:10 - Cameron lists everything good in the employment market, but he can't use it as an attack. Miliband will now want to pivot onto Mitchell. But that will look awkward and possibly superficial. Can he pull it off?

12:11 - Cameron says the measures are in place too tackle long term unemployment. Miliband says it is still higher than when he came to office. Youth unemployment has been steadily rising over the last 18 months. The longer young people stay out of work, the greater the damage to them and the economy. "Of course, he's right," Cameron says. He says the youth contract and the work programme are intended to address it. He also says youth unemployment almost doubled under Labour.

12:13 - Cameron says one million new private sector jobs have made up for loss of jobs in  the public sector. Miliband: "There are more people out of work for longer than at any time for decades, and that's happening on his watch." One group is police officers. How many have lost their jobs? Miliband clearly working towards the Mitchell attack here. Cameron says either party would have had to cut police budgets.

12:14 - Miliband: "I really hoped just for once we'd get a straight answer. All the PM needs to do is take a leaf out of the police ministers book." On Monday he said 6,778 fewer frontline officers. That directly contradicts Cameron's statement. "I don't think he's going to help you," he says, as Cameron consults with Osborne. Now Miliband moves onto Mitchell. "It's their conduct as well."

12:15 - The mayor of London, "his new best mate" said last year people who swear at police deserve to be arrested. Mitchell says "I didn't". Miliband attacks: "He says he didn't. Maybe he'll tell us what he did say. Did the chief whip use those words?" Cameron says "The chief whip apologised. That apology has been accepted. What he did and said was wrong."

12:17 - Miliband: "No straight answers on police numbers or on the chief whip. He says it's 'real issues'. I think it is a real issue, abusing police officers. Just because an officer has better manners than the chief whip doesn't mean he should keep his job. While it's a night in the cell for the yobs, it's a night in  the Carlton club for the chief whip. Isn't that the clearest case there could be of double standards."

12:18 - Cameron shouts that Miliband has "got no plans" for deficit reduction." He wants to discuss these issues because he's got nothing serious to say about the country." Miliband: "They says I practise class war and they go round calling people plebs. In the newspapers, what are they saying in private: 'He's toast'. While everyone else loses their jobs, the chief whip keeps his."The Conservative benches erupt. Bercow has to scream to get control. "Calm yourself man and get a grip!" he shouts at one Tory MP.

12:20 - Cameron seizes on the comment as a sign Miliband wrote his questions before unemployment fell. "He comes to this House, he's written out his clever political questions, he doesn't care what's really happening in our economy," Cameron ends.

12:21 - Miliband allowed the counter-attack by expanding attack to cover the state of the country rather than zeroing in for the kill. That was probably a mistake, but he still won't he session. I'll give it Miliband: 4 Cameron: 2.

12:22 - That was a storming session, thoroughly enjoyable. Politics is back. Unfortunately, so is winter, but what can you do? Julian Lewis (Con, beyond parody) asks about our nuclear at-sea deterrent, a massive gap between Lib Dems and Tories. 

12:23 - Kevin Brennan (Lab, studious) asks why Mitchell allowed £12million of funding to Rwanda despite it's human rights record. Cameron: "I'm clear, Rwanda continues to be a success story and I'm proud of the fact we continued to invest in success. He should be very frank with the regime we do not accept they should be supporting militias." Cameron answer is despicable. This is a regime that has tried to assassinate Rwandans in London. 

12:26 - Andrew Bridgen (Con, bruiser) says Labour's Corby campaign to save a hospital which is not actually closing is "an absolute disgrace". Cameron: "They know that is simply not true. The local newspaper is now backing up the fact." Suddenly he says: "You know what, you are over there, and you're going to stay there for a very long time. " That was to Balls presumably. "Get yourself comfortable."

12:27 - Chris Bryant (Lab, extremely confident) asks why Cameron won't publish his correspondence with Rebekah Brooks. "I wouldn't smile," he says, pointing away, "when the truth comes out the prime minister won't be smiling." Cameron says Bryant still refuses to apologise for saying "untruths" about him in the House. "And you know what, until he apologises, I'm not going to answer his questions." Ohhhh. Properly harsh. 

12:30 - This is very enjoyable indeed. Best PMQs for ages. Nick Harvey (Lib Dem, intimacy problems) asks about military replacements for Trident. He wants the PM to keep an open mind. Cameron says the alternatives he listed are properly funded. Oh Christ, Ian Paisley Jnr (DUP, you know him), said something. We'll ignore that. hey, if Cameron can do it, I can do it.

12:33 - Nadine Dorries (Con, you know her too) says a lap dancing club was opened in a beautiful market town in her constituency. Isn't it time to amend the planning law so that "catastrophic applications" which blight the environment still see local voices heard. Cameron says he already gave planners greater power to alter licences. There are also 'neighbourhood plans' to shape the future of specific communities.

12:35 - There's a lot of chatter online about whether a PM can refuse to answer an MP's question. My hunch would be... no. Because God knows where that ends. He could just sit quietly for the session. The consensus is that by getting angry with Bryant he pours fuel on the story. I quite enjoyed this, from a New Statesman writer: "'I'm not going to answer his questions'. Brilliant #PMQs strategy. Why has no PM thought of this before? Next week: not turning up at all?"

12:38 - Cameron calls Miliband's attendance at the TUC rally this weekend, "the most lucrative sponsored walk in history". He gets huge cheers for that. The Tories are desperate to support him and he exits the Chamber to the ringing of their cheers. Cameron has still got fight in him - sometimes rather too much fight - but he still came out the loser today. 

12:40 - And that's it for this week. See you next time.


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