Alive or dead? At PMQs today we discovered whether Dr Fox is still an active toxin
within Cameron’s government. Ed Miliband, using that special quiet voice he likes to try when he’s got a deadly question, described the affair as ‘deeply worrying’, and
asked how on earth the prime minister could have let it all happen. Cameron, evidently relieved that Fox is already a stuffed and mounted exhibit in the Museum of Former Big Beasts, pointed out
that his minister had resigned. ‘Not something that always happened under Labour.’
It turned very tetchy all of a sudden. Miliband, apparently miffed, struck out with this hoity-toity harangue. ‘Some advice for the Prime Minister,’ he said. ‘In this week of all
weeks. Show a bit of humility, eh?’ It was the ‘eh?’ that did it. Sometimes Miliband appears to be angling for the ‘self-righteous prig’ vote. And Cameron came back
strongly. He jeered that the Fox issue was finished, and he reeled off a checklist of Labour scandals. ‘Cabs for hire, mortgages for mates, dodgy dossiers, and good days to bury bad
news’. The questions had come a week late, he told Ed. ‘If you’re going to jump on a bandwagon, make sure it’s still moving.’
Miliband fared better as soon as he moved away from the corpse. He slammed Cameron with a killer statistic delivered in innocuous tones. ‘How many businesses have received money from the
regional growth fund?’ he asked politely. Cameron, evidently clueless, flannelled and blustered about Labour’s ‘boom and bust’ being the cause of the financial crisis.
Miliband stood up and observed simply. ‘I don’t think he knows the answer.’ Which prompted gales of laughter. It’s amazing how well the truth goes down at these exchanges.
‘The answer is two businesses in 16 months!’ said Ed, triumphantly. Cameron, now desperate, accused Miliband of ‘talking the economy down’. He then own-goaled it by working
himself into a solo frenzy about Labour’s alleged scheme to borrow a hundred billion extra smackers before the next election. ‘No country in Europe has such a crazy plan!’ he
yelled, sounding like Basil Fawlty during the fire alarm episode. ‘Calm down dear!’ shouted the delighted Labour front bench. Not a good week for Cameron.
The trickiest backbench question came from Andrew Rosindell (Romford, Con) who invited the prime minister to ‘make history’ and offer us a vote on Britain’s future in the EU.
Cameron adopted the pose of a country doctor comforting a patient who’s less ill than he believes he is. Wearing his blandest frown, he said that the problem amounted to little more than
‘getting on top of the budget and making sure the single market is working.’ He conceded that ‘if powers are to pass from Westminster to Brussels,’ there will be a
referendum, (although ‘powers’ will be defined, presumably, by those who don’t want a referendum at all). He added that his party ‘doesn’t support a referendum come
what may.’ Even, apparently, if ‘come what may’ includes the bankruptcy of the Union.
A difficult session for Cameron but thanks to an Old Labour stalwart, Russell Brown, (Dumfries and Galloway), he finished on a high note. Having failed to notice that the stench of dead Fox had
already been Fabrezed away, Mr Brown asked Cameron to publish a list of all those who’d been misled by the self-appointed Mr Werritty. The PM referred him to the Cabinet Secretary’s
He then seemed to stumble on an unused gag in the back of his folder. Referring to Gordon Brown (remember him?), he told us that the former PM has recently made speeches to Credit Suisse, Visa, and
Citibank. ‘Well, he told us he’d put money into banks. We didn’t realise he’d get it out so quickly.’