Coffee House

PMQs sketch: Miliband packs a punch, and Cameron punches back

6 March 2013

4:17 PM

6 March 2013

4:17 PM

Whooo that was nasty. Today’s was the most vicious PMQs of the last twelve months. Easily. Ed Miliband started by quoting the case of a Londoner called ‘John’ who was concerned about living standards. ‘John’, however, wasn’t a disabled pensioner but a City fat cat concerned that next year’s bonus might be capped at two million pounds.

‘What’s the prime minister going to do to help him?’

Nifty tactics from Miliband’s team. Cameron might have floundered here but his reply matched the full force of Miliband’s attack. His government, he declared, had cut bonuses to a quarter of what they’d been under Labour.

‘And we aren’t going to listen to the croupiers who were in the casino when it all went bust.’

Toxic language. And contagious as well. The PM’s blistering insult sent wild roars ringing around the chamber. When Miliband stood up he seemed to rock back for a moment, like a wobbly skittle. The speaker called for silence. The roars went on. They were Tory roars. Miliband’s ambush had been neutered by Cameron’s snooker-hall language.

Miliband then accused Cameron of dispatching George Osborne to Brussels to sabotage the new EU limits on bankers’ pay. ‘They’re fighting,’ shouted Miliband, ‘for bigger bonuses for bankers’.

This was a second trap. But Cameron didn’t spot it. He blundered unknowingly towards Miliband’s baited snare. Ever keen to disprove the idea that he’s a banker-stroking capitalist buccaneer, Cameron said his government had imposed ‘the toughest rules on bonuses and transparency anywhere in the world.’


Miliband scuttled out and pounced. He quoted a Cameron speech from March 2008 where the Tory leader called himself ‘a free marketeer by conviction’. The City’s real problem, Cameron had said, was ‘too much regulation’. Miliband then linked ‘John the banker’ with the thousands of poor claimants hit by ‘the bedroom tax’.

Cameron met Miliband’s cunning with brute force. The damaging quote had come from 2008. A pivotal year. ‘That’s the year when the biggest bust in our history,’ he said, ‘was delivered by him and his henchmen.’

Henchmen. A pretty intemperate reference to Miliband and Balls. Both cabinet ministers at the time. Henchmen! This was ugly. This was personal. This was pub car-park stuff.

‘Let him get to his feet and apologise,’ said Cameron, packing as much heat and venom into his phrases as parliamentary convention will bear. His thuggish expression suggested that a fruiter insult lay on the tip of his tongue. ‘You messed up, so admit it, you effin slag!’

The noise in the chamber was now reaching hurricane levels. The Speaker called for quiet again and Miliband took the chance to alter the mood. A look of amused irony settled over his head-boyish face.

‘I notice the prime minister has a new tactic, to ask me questions. It’s good to see him preparing for opposition.’

He then unleashed a set of multiplication tables which appeared to show that the neediest will suffer most from housing benefit cap. ‘The vast majority of the disabled will be hit by the bedroom tax.’  

Cameron brought the argument down to basics. The coalition has tabled £83 billion in savings and Labour has opposed every penny of them. He then used a Miliband ploy to explode Miliband. ‘He’s fond of reading out letters. I’ve got one here.’

Two OAPs had begged him for help finding the extra £60 per month they’d need under the reformed system.

‘They’re exempt,’ said Cameron in tones of cold fury. ‘But they’ve been terrified by his completely irresponsible campaign.’

What a captivating tag-match we saw today. Miliband, on searing form, was matched blow for blow by a coolly aggressive PM. To everyone’s surprise Cameron sounded like a real old-fashioned Tory. Rational, robust and right-wing. What’s come over him?  

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • George_Arseborne

    What type if role model we have as a Prime Minister who does not have a grasps of his own policies but resort to abuse all the time. It is a shame. We need a Prime Minister not a tug like David Cameron.

    • HookesLaw

      What a pathetic bit of useless propaganda

      • cockaigne

        sorry, but the only propaganda is your attempt to bluster and divert attention from Cameron’s ignorance of his own policies …

        will you correct your accusations against other people?

  • DWWolds

    As I posted earlier, Milliband should be asked to place details of all the contacts he has had with “John” who is worried about his standard of living in the Commons Library. The validity of his claim could then be verified.

  • cockaigne

    Cameron may have appeared “rational, robust and right-wing” — unfortunately he was also factually wrong. His charge of ‘irresponsible scaremongering’ falls apart if the reassurances he gave today are not correct.

    Cameron said people with disabled children would be exempt.
    He said people who need round the clock care would be exempt
    BOTH these statements are false

    Will Cameron have to correct this error?
    Has he lied to — or at least misled — the House?
    When Milliband said Cameron doesn’t understand his own policy, he was absolutely correct.

    Iain Duncan Smith had to correct a mistake he made about Universal Credit in a written answer on 31 January

    shocking ignorance of their own policies

    • HookesLaw

      People with round the clock care are exempt – that is people with outside care not your spouse.
      This makes sense to me.
      Money IS available to cover people with disabled children, fact.

      Spending on housing benefit IS up 50% over 10 years. Fact. Can we afford that as a nation given the ruin of an economy left by labour?
      The fact that housing benefit has exploded in this way is one reason why we have a massive structural deficit.

      Will you correct your misleading claims?

      • cockaigne

        No, I don’t think my claim is misleading. It’s 100%accurate. Milliband’s question was specifically about the gap between the amount of money available in discretionary housing payments (the emergency fund referred to in debate) and the larger amount that impact assessment says will be lost by disabled people.
        Cameron’s reply clearly shows that he seems to think there is an automatic, blanket exception for the two groups stated— that is not correct. The under occupation HB reduction will apply to people with disabled children — FACT — and will apply to people who need round the clock care (unless they need a career to stay who lives elsewhere). A carer looking after their husband/wife will NOT be exempt.
        Yes there is a discretionary fund they can apply to — the debating point was that it is not enough.
        Cameron’s reply was robust. but I’m sorry it WAS just plain wrong

  • HookesLaw

    If that’s searing form from Miliband I would hate to see him opening the batting.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Oh, for a serious and mature leader of integrity. In all the parties.

    • telemachus

      There is a man who is both serious and filled with integrity. After 2015 we will have a Great Leader that all progressive forces can rally behind while the forces of conservatism will we swept away once and for all.

      • tele_machus

        Sorry not me
        THe only way I can see that my identity has been hacked is if Disqus is corrupt and I do not believe that
        Or if Coffee House Wall has breached data protection since I certainly communicated email information there before the axe.

        • Colonel Mustard

          One of you is bad enough. If you are going to multiply like this please leave my comments be and infiltrate elsewhere!

        • Malfleur2

          If it quacks like a duck…

  • john

    Miliband does not pack a punch neither does Cameron. The HoP is a fun Oxford Union debating forum with quips, insults and jeering. However, little of substance ever occurs as (1) there is no radical input of any kind and debates are myopic. (2) members have no wish to do anything radical (3) Britain is going down the tubes but nobody cares.

    What about an elected HoS? Why do the Windsors have endless privilege? What about dumping the Lords and creating an elected Senate? What is the Commonwealth? Why is the North of England a wasteland?

    • George Anderton

      John, where do you live ? Is it cloud cuckoo land ?. I live in the North and a wasteland it most certainly is not. Take your biased and foolish opinions elsewhere.

      • john

        The data are quite clear:
        “:Disposable household income over fifty per cent higher in London than the North East In 2010, across the UK as a whole the average disposable household income per head stood at £15,709. There were big variations across the country with London having the largest amount, £20,238, which was 51.8 per cent higher than the lowest, the North East at £13,329”.
        Just gimme the facts!

      • john

        Again, see my replies quoting actual data. Key cities in the North have been economic zombie zones for decades – Liverpool, Newcastle, Hull, Middlesboro etc

        • Colin

          The solution to the problems of the citizens of these benighted dumps is to stop voting labour. It’s that simple. The scum have been in power in the places you name check, for decades. All they’ve done, is work like evil, socialist Trojans to keep the people in these places, exactly where they NEED them, at he bottom and devoid of aspiration.

          • Colonel Mustard

            Well said.

    • Russell

      I think you will find that both Rolls Royce, BAE and Nissan to name just three companies with thousands of employees are based in what you refer to as a wasteland, and provide a huge amount of money for the UK London based treasury.

      • john

        Not sure what Russell’s point is. The income of UK regions outside London is very modest compared with London’s European-leading regional income. How are things going in the North-East or Merseyside? Pretty awful!

        • HookesLaw

          What after 13 years of Labour in power?

          • john

            My whole point is that the decay has been going on for many years (since the 60s at least) and the limited vision of both parties is equally at fault.

            • HookesLaw

              There have been endless runs of regional policy and forced investment and new town relocations over the years. Its ignorant to say there has been neglect.
              As a result Liverpool have a factory which produces a very popular all over the world Range Rover model and is expanding.
              Birmingham had a massive car plant until Labour and the Unions ruined it.

      • wobble

        According too the beeb …RR paid no corporation tax on a £1.4 bin profit last year.

    • HookesLaw

      The North of England boasts a car factory that produces more cars than the whole of Italy.

      • john

        Read my earlier data based replies. You can’t answer a general point with a unique (and probably dodgy) example. Regional GDP in North East less that 50% of London.

        • HookesLaw

          You could if you wanted subdivide London even more and split off the CIty and tourism.
          Where does that leave you if you live in Hackney?.
          How do house prices compare in Middlesbrough to Surbiton?

          And BTW – Thanks for pointing out the ever expanding welfare regime in supposedly mad capitalist America.
          According to the BBC in respect of UK Tax Credits
          A family with two adults (both working full time) and two children but no childcare costs, with an income of £25,000 a year, will receive:
          £2,967.20 in 2012-13
          So many many families are indeed on ‘welfare’.

          • john

            Again, a pointless repost. My point is that the UK has one or two areas of wealth (mainly around the City of London). The rest of the country is stagnant and will not recover much ground in the foreseeable future, This was the case as far back as the 60s and the gap has worsened not reduced. Now that the housing bubble is over and the financial sector contracting, I see no evidence that the British economy will keep up with other major economies in coming years.

            • Colonel Mustard

              I’d go on Question Time if I were you and barrack the Conservative panellist. The BBC will love you. Your surname’s not “Lennon” is it?

              • john

                It would be more useful if punters like the good Colonel could offer facts as responses not just witty (?) cheap shots. Explain why the UK is on a good economic footing please.

  • UlyssesReturns

    Mr Evans, I refer you to my answer to Ms Hardman in her earlier post. I am relieved that you and I both saw the same PMQs but somewhat disturbed that she saw a different version. What on earth is going on at the Speccie? I hope no-one is smoking something illicit.

    • HookesLaw

      I think its pretty clear whats happening to the Speccy.
      Its going the way of the Telegraph.