PMQ analysis: Brown fights back

Gordon Brown comes out on top in PMQs
Gordon Brown comes out on top in PMQs

Gordon Brown looked every inch the statesman as he put in one of his best performances in prime minister's questions.

The announcement of a major policy decision certainly helped matters, effectively nullifying David Cameron's first three questions.

But when things got tougher in the second half of the leader of the opposition's questions Mr Brown responded strongly, easily brushing aside the uncharacteristically weak line of questioning adopted by the Conservative leader.

Some might quibble with Downing Street's decision to use PMQs for a big foreign policy announcement, but the Labour backbenches weren't complaining. The British government is banning Zimbabwe's cricketers from touring here as a punishment against Robert Mugabe's electoral misbehaviours, Mr Brown revealed. Economic sanctions are also being imposed.

The measures met with approval by all parts of the Commons - and there is nothing so encouraging for a prime minister than unanimity. "I believe that the whole world has woken up to the evils that have been going on in Zimbabwe," he said. The simple fact is Mr Brown is leading the world against the Mugabe regime. He is at his best as a statesman, and it showed.

Mr Cameron's concern over the precise definition of "legitimacy", by comparison, seemed less impressive. Perhaps he sensed William Hague's demands for recognition of the Zimbabwe state to be dropped were on the wrong tack. Where he suggested "visa bans" on Mugabe and his cronies, Mr Brown had the perfect response: They are being considered. So there.

The prime minister's confidence seemed buoyed by this early exchange and brushed off the questions from backbenchers which followed. He was unperturbed by Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who continued to call for citizenship for all Gurkha veterans. And he underlined his commitment to tackling child poverty in response to a question from Tony Lloyd, attacking the Conservatives' failure on that issue before 1997.

Mr Cameron could only get better for his remaining questions. He focused on the impending public sector strikes and sought to focus his attack on Labour's closeness to the unions. He has a point - Labour has slipped back, in percentage terms, in its reliance on the unions for funding - but Mr Brown was having none of it.

He was scornful of the suggestion that union-bashing legislation will not be discussed and described the new three-year pay deals with the public sector as being unique, a barrier against inflation and providing stability for the future.

At this point the session reached its crux: Mr Brown continued his bad habit of responding to Mr Cameron with questions rather than answers. Mr Cameron pounced: "If you want to ask us questions, you've had a year in office; why not call an election?" he asked to uproar.

"As he lurches to the left, shouldn't we all conclude that New Labour is dead and buried?"

Mr Brown's response came close to the mythical clunking fist - once anticipated, never yet fully seen.

He decried "the same old Tory party" which "can't even talk to the trade unions" and repeated the refrain "we're deciding, they ducked it" on numerous policy issues.

"For him, politics is just showbusiness. It's opposition for opposition's sake. You can get by with substance some of the time, you can't get by without substance all of the time," the prime minister finished with relish.

Regular readers of this analysis will have grown weary of Mr Brown's constant drubbing in PMQs. This time, thank the Lord, it was different. In a week of miserable assessments of Mr Brown's first year in power, the prime minister looks like finishing his first 12 months with a flourish.

Alex Stevenson


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