PMQs as-it-happened

PMQ's as-it-happens
PMQ's as-it-happens

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The prime minister is riding high in the polls after an impressive performance dealing with the global financial crisis. We can expect a decent session, perhaps even topping last week's confident performance. The Conservatives were fundamentally unsure how to behave last Wednesday - trying to appear supportive, but desperate to land some blows on a prime minister in the middle of a serious crisis. David Cameron will be looking to improve on that performance today.

Ah yes, slight mistake there. The prime minister is, of course, in Brussels, resculpting the face of the international financial system. Harriet Harman is standing in for him. She does this rather well, in my opinion, although there are several tabloid editors who seriously disagree with me.


She launches into a defence of government attempts to help small and medium sized businesses, selling the stabilisation of the banking sector as a means of assisting them. William Hague is standing in for David Cameron. I just can't say this enough: why isn't it Theresa May, Ms Harman's opposite number? The answer is that Mr Hague is better at this. Hague wants her to acknowledge that unemployment will rise to three million by the end of 2010. Behind him, George Osborne looks like a child who just had his toys taken away.

Harman stresses that Labour isn't complacent about the economy. "But nether should he write the economy off," she adds. Hague quotes from her blog - that might be a parliamentary first - although it's a fairly trivial section about how hard the economy downfall would hit us from earlier in the year. Very few people had any idea how hard we would get hit, I doubt Harman is the only one.

Alistair Darling, right behind Harman, looks like he's going to burst out of his skin, watching someone who evidently knows far less than him answer questions on the economy. Occasionally he looks over at George Osborne with a rigid, superior glance. He looks, frankly, like he'd eat Osborne for breakfast. "There is a serious situation across the board, and we're determined to take the action that's necessary," Harman says.

"Well, we'll look forward to action, instead of concern and talking which is all we've had at question time so far," Mr Hague responds. He asks a question on the level of lending banks will be allowed, or encouraged, to engage in. He quotes the chancellor, who shakes his head in a theatrical sort of way. Harman says banks should "at reasonable rates, re-establish credit lines". She then launches into Labour's meat-and-potatoes: a 'we invested in hospitals and schools and we don't regret it' section, delivered in response to insinuations about government spending.

She mentions the Tories backed all these measures. Mr Hague is being forced into a corner. He responds with this: Does Harman admit that to claim to have defeat boom-and-bust was the "most foolish, most hubristic, most irresponsible claim ever made by a British prime minister?" Harman, it goes without saying, doesn't answer that question, but focuses on how active Brown is being now, trying to sort out the mess. She even tries to put a patriotic slant on it, with guttural calls for the strength of the British economy - a political sleight of hand that seems a little cheap and more than a little unfair. The insinuation, silent but definitely there, is that Mr Hague is being unpatriotic by asking questions.

Vince Cable stands for the Lib Dems. Basically, when Brown goes on holiday, both the other parties just throw up their best performer. Cable is the new prophet of finance for the Lib Dems, although a fat lot of good that's done them in the polls. "The minister doesn't realise there is a very real emergency," Cable says. He argues the government is blinded to interest rates. "I don't accept his assertion about government unpreparedness," Harman replies.

It's a fascinating question time, in a similar manner to last week. Hague is a far better parliamentary speaker than Harman, but today he couldn't find the angle to attack from. With Brown swanning around the world to a chorus of heroic folk songs about the magnitude of his genius, Tory attempts to pin blame on Labour look petty, even when many people believe them to be true. And yet the Conservatives clearly feel unable to just sit there and keep on saying the government is doing well. As things stand, and Hague has used up his questions, this is the second PMQs in a row which Labour has won hands-down.

Conservative Phillip Davies, - who, by the way, looks like he acted in Wind in the Willows in school and never quite got over it - tries to argue that Brown is responsible for the current crisis. Harman shoots him down with the same response she gives to anyone using this line of attack. She looks like she can barely be bothered.

I got in so much trouble for mentioning her wardrobe last time she conducted PMQs that I'm not going to say a word about her delightful pin strip suit. Not a word. She's asked for an assurance the bank bailout won't come at the expense of ordinary Britons. "I can give that assurance," she says, and promises that government investment into public services will continue.

Out of left wing, a Plaid Cymru MP says Harman was brave to say the Iraq war was a mistake, and tries to use it as a metaphor for government failure to not impose more market regulation before the current crisis hit. Harman doesn't seem to get it, and gives an Iraq war answer, much to the laughter of Plaid MPs

The session comes to an end, with Labour giving every indication of being able to coast through these things with the political/economic (is there even a difference anymore?) situation as it stands. When recession bites and the real economy starts hurting, it will be a different matter. See you next week.

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