David Cameron uses PMQs to attack “something for nothing” Miliband
By Peter Hoskin
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Unsurprisingly, two subjects simmered to the fore in PMQs today: the Work Programme and tomorrow’s Leveson Report. The first of these occupied most of the exchange between David Cameron and Ed Miliband. The second emerged in backbench questions.
So, let’s start with the leaders’ exchange, shall we? This promised to be rocky ground for Mr Cameron, given just how underwhelming yesterday’s welfare-to-work statistics were — and that’s how it seemed at first. Ed Miliband began by quoting David Cameron, speaking last year, to the effect that the Work Programme is the "biggest, boldest effort to get people off benefits and into work that this country has ever seen." You could almost sense the embarrassment rising, like a heat haze, from the Coalition benches.
But Mr Cameron rescued the position in double-quick time. Helped by an error from Mr Miliband — who said that only two per cent of participants got a job, whereas actually that’s the figure for those who held a job for over six months — he clearly and methodically went through the numbers, listing some of the more encouraging aspects of the Work Programme. And then he added a sting. “The Work Programme is already helping thousands of people,” he said, quoting the CBI, before adding a line of his own: “These are people that Labour left on the scrapheap.”
The end of the leaders’ exchange was a bit messy, with both men launching into pre-prepared lists. (Miliband: “The Prime Minister has failed, the Government has failed…” etc; Cameron: “We’re the Government that did x, we’re the Government that did y…” etc). But Mr Cameron had already defused a tricky encounter, and was probably the victor as a result.
As for the Leveson report, the Prime Minister consistently emphasised a few points in response to questions from backbenchers including Henry Smith, Liam Fox and Philip Davies. The first was that “the status quo is unacceptable and needs to change”. The second was that the victims of phone-hacking — such as the family of Milly Dowler — should be foremost in politicians’ minds. And the third was that “there needs to be an independent regulatory system which can deliver”.
But, beyond that, there were some more specific, individual points made. One was Mr Cameron’s offer to “work across party lines on this issue,” and to speak to the other leaders. The other was his response to Liam Fox’s argument that, rather than restricting the press, we should concentrate on proper redress whenever the press oversteps its bounds — particularly to ensure that “justice isn't only available to rich and famous”. Mr Cameron only seemed to agree up to a point, saying that he’d prefer a tougher regulatory system precisely so that victims don’t have to refer their cases to the courts.
There were other subjects on display. Cheryl Gillan asked whether those facing displacement by HS2 would be compensated “fairly and generously” — to which David Cameron responded sympathetically. Various Labour MPs asked about tax avoidance and lower rates for the well-off — to which he responded by inquiring, "What did you do in 13 years of power?" But, like I say, it was the Work Programme and Leveson that dominated. And tomorrow will be dominated by only one of them.