PMQs sketch: Brown’s surprise U-turn boost

Gordon Brown’s political skin is now so gnarled by years of adversity even a U-turn doesn’t seem to faze him.

By Alex Stevenson

The prime minister should have been overwhelmed in his latest clash with David Cameron. Instead he confronted the barbs hurled across the dispatch box and, thanks to a little support from his friends, managed to avoid losing face.

Cameron did his best. He couldn’t complain about a lack of material to work with: last year’s GDP figures gave him the “deepest and longest recession since records began”, while No 10’s terrible retreat over training cuts for the Territorial Army was political opportunism on a plate.

He got off to a good start after Brown listed three “stages” for Afghanistan troop deployments, responding with three of his own: wrong policy, weeks of dithering, and then finally giving in to opposition proposals to “do the right thing”. “The prime minister can’t even be straightforward when he’s performing a U-turn,” he blared. The Tories drank it all in gleefully.

Quickly turning to the economy, Cameron may as well have rubbed his hands in glee as he confronted Brown with his old ending-boom-and-bust credentials. The PM claimed he would bring Britain out of recession by the end of the year.

“I’m not going to let him get away with that!” Cameron said in pantomime fashion. A rather camp high-pitched “oooh!” came from the Labour benches in response. Cameron politely pointed out that Brown had said, only last September, that Britain was leading the rest of the world out of recession. Again, Labour jeers brought him down. This was hardly fair – after all, he explained, Sweden, New Zealand and a few others had already come out of recession before Britain.

What was going on? Buoyed up by his backbenchers, the prime minister’s 869th fightback was beginning in earnest in earnest. It helped that the battleground was on his favourite territory, making lists. PMQs descended into a competition on how many times party leaders could say the word “wrong”. Cameron tried his best, but he was unwise to challenge Brown here. If politics was exclusively about unnecessarily lengthy lists, Brown would be prime minister forever.

By the time he reached his final response, therefore, it seemed Brown had achieved an extraordinary turnaround. He stood, right foot forward and right finger stabbing at the Tories, as if he was bracing himself in a gale of adversity. That’s a pretty fair way of describing his political situation at present. But you wouldn’t have been able to tell in the chamber by Brown’s performance.

“They have no idea on how to get us out of growth,” he jabbed triumphantly. “They’re not fit even to be the opposition!”

“MORE!” roared appreciative Labour backbenches as he sat down, loving every moment. They were his secret weapon, giving Brown a level of support and encouragement he hasn’t enjoyed for months.

It was gratitude for folding on the Territorial Army training cuts which gave Brown this backing. In a perverse way, they loved him for his weakness; maybe he should U-turn every week.