David Cameron questions Gordon Brown’s authority at PMQs

May 7, 2009 at 12:26 pm 1 comment

by Naomi Isaacs

Trident, regeneration, the recession and Brighton and Hove Albion were just some of the issues brought up in this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions, but it was attacks on Gordon Brown’s authority that dominated discussion.

Yesterday’s PMQ lacked policy debate, with both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats questioning the Prime Minister’s performance following a turbulent week of Parliamentary defeat, Government U-turns and internal disputes.

Mr Cameron went straight for the jugular, opening his questions by declaring: “There have been a series of U-turns, defeats in Parliament- even when the government have a majority- and Ministers, including Cabinet Ministers, openly questioning the authority of the Prime Minister. Does the Prime Minister agree that those are signs of a Government in terminal decline?”

The Prime Minister responded by accusing Mr Cameron of failing to “ask questions about the economy, swine flu or the difficult decisions that we have got to take in the world”.

“Once again, he reduces everything to personality. We are getting on with the business of governing,” he added.

Mr Cameron further questioned Cabinet unity in the wake of Hazel Blears’ article which had appeared last weekend.

Ms Blears made a conspiciously late entrance to the House.

Mr Cameron said: “This weekend, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government wrote an article calling the Government’s performance “lamentable”. Given that she is openly mocking the Prime Minister and his authority, what is she still doing in the Cabinet?”

The Prime Minister’s response accused Mr Cameron of having “nothing to say about the big issues of the day”.

“Once again, he has nothing to say about unemployment; once again, he has nothing to say about the help that we are giving people for housing; and once again, he has nothing to say about help with businesses.

“Talking about U-turns, this is the man who promised to support the Government through the economic crisis; within a few days, he had abandoned that promise with his U-turn.”

Mr Cameron then declared that the Prime Minister had displayed “appalling judgement” which had contributed to his waning authority.

Mr Cameron said: “Let us look at the string of misjudgments that we have seen. The Prime Minister has made U-turns on Titan prisons, the internet database, MPs’ expenses and that humiliating defeat on the Gurkhas. Why does he think he got so many judgments so badly wrong?”

The Prime Minister responded: “If the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about U-turns, the biggest U-turn is his supporting public spending, and now saying that he will not match our public spending.

“The biggest U-turn on education is to support money for education, and then to say that he will cut it. The biggest U-turn is to say that he was supporting us on the police and is now planning to cut police expenditure. Let us remember that he was the “hug a hoodie”, which was another of his big U-turns.”

The Prime Minister declared that “Compassionate Conservatism—it has gone, gone and gone.”

Mr Cameron then quipped: “I am sure that sounded just great in the bunker, while the mobile phones and printers were flying round the room”.

Mr Cameron then called on the Prime Minister to take political action.

“The biggest U-turn of all is that of the Prime Minister, who fought the last election accusing us of £35 billion in spending cuts. On his own arithmetic, he has cut £85 billion from his own spending.

“If he is so confident of his arguments and his judgments, and if he thinks he is on the right side of these arguments, why does he not do what Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair did after four years of a Parliament and call a general election?” he asked

Mr Brown responded by stressing that he was confident in the government’s policy and that Mr Cameron’s response to the recession was out of touch with both America and Europe.

“We have to invest our way out of recession. The Conservatives are in the dark ages on policy. They have to think again”.

Mr Cameron said: “The Prime Minister talks about isolated. He is isolated in his own Cabinet—he is the only one who thinks he is any good. What is it about this Prime Minister and elections? He would not fight an election to win the leadership of the Labour party; he did not fight an election to become Prime Minister; and he does not have the courage to go to the country now.

“Is not the truth that Britain needs a strong Prime Minister with a united party capable of taking long-term decisions? Instead, we have a wasted year with an utterly busted Government.

“No one doubts that he might have come into politics for the right reasons, but is it not clear that he is just not up to the job? The public know it, his party knows it, and now the Cabinet knows it, so why not do the last bold thing left and call an election?”

Mr Brown continued to attack the Conservatives as failing to ask any questions about “big issues”.

“I have listened to the right hon. Gentleman’s six questions, and not one of them has been about policy.

“He has not raised the cause of the unemployed in Britain once; he has not mentioned mortgage holders or home owners once; he has not mentioned small businesses once; he has not mentioned the state of the economy and what we can do to improve it once; he has not mentioned the public services once; and he has not mentioned health and education once. He is completely out of his depth when it comes to the big issues in this country.”

There was no respite for the Prime Minister from the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, who criticised the Prime Minister’s previous speech on education as only “tinkering”, failing to come up with any “big ideas for the country.”

The Prime Minister responded by stressing the developments made under the Labour government.

Mr Clegg then went on to explicitly attack the Prime Minister’s authority amid cries from Labour MPs.

He said: “There comes a point when stubbornness is not leadership; it is stupidity At least I say it to the Prime Minister’s face; Labour Members say it behind his back.

“For the past 12 years, this Government have vilified and criminalised young people and abandoned a whole generation, and all the Prime Minister can do is spin a vacuous speech to keep his own party off his back.

“Is it not now obvious that he does not really care about what is right for the country? All he really cares about is saving his own skin.”

Even backbench MPs sensed the opportunity to mock and question the Prime Minister’s authority.

Conservative MP Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) said: “Two years ago, the Prime Minister ruled out holding an immediate general election on the grounds that he needed time to set out his vision. Will he tell us how that epic project is proceeding before the British people and he are put out of their collective misery?”

The Prime Minister responded: “Has any Question Time exposed the hollowness of the Conservative party more than what we have seen today?

“We are dealing with an international financial recession, a health epidemic, which we must deal with in the most sensitive way, and problems that arise from mortgages, unemployment and businesses. I am ashamed that not one Conservative can even raise a question about these issues.”

Elfyn Llwyd, a Plaid Cymru MP, appeared an exception from much of the political sparring which dominated the Questions, asking the Prime Minister to confirm that there would be a full parliamentary debate and vote before the next stage of the Trident programme.

The Prime Minister responded: “There are regular parliamentary debates on these issues. There is the defence debate that takes place every year. The House of Commons came to a view on this issue, and people are perfectly free to raise it on the Floor of the House. Defence debates happen regularly and will continue to do so.”

Meanwhile, former Conservative Leader, Mr Iain Duncan Smith, sought assurance that the Government would be bound by last week’s decision over the Gurkhas.

The Prime Minister assured Mr Duncan Smith that the government would “listen to the voice of the House, as it was expressed last Wednesday.”

Amid a bad-tempered and highly-charged PMQ, there was some light relief for Gordon Brown when Hove MP Celia Barlow mentioned the triumphs of her local football team.

The Prime Minister, a football fan, congratulated Brighton and Hove Albion on their success in moving up to the first division.

“I understand that Brighton has delivered nearly 4,000 Skills for Life achievements, and that is helping young people.

“I believe that the Learning and Skills Council has provided Brighton and Hove Albion’s football in the community scheme with funding, and we will continue to support that.

“Football clubs that are at the centre of their communities are good for every community, and Brighton has proved exactly that.”


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