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At PMQs David Cameron lays the blame for the deficit at the feet of "Gordon Brown's two henchmen at the Treasury"

By Jonathan Isaby

Unsurprisingly, Ed Miliband used all his questions today to ask about the economy, but he failed to command the House, with the Prime Minister looking far more assured in his answers.

Andrew Sparrow from the Guardian blogged this morning that "if Miliband can't dominate PMQs today, it's hard to imagine when he will ever come out on top". Yet even today the Labour leader certainly did not dominate proceedings.

Picture 14 Miliband opened by asking what was the cause of the drop in growth over the last quarter, to which Cameron replied that the figures were disappointing, even when you exclude the weather issue. But the difficult economic situation is there for two reasons, he said: the Government inherited the biggest deficit in Europe and secondly the biggest banking boom and biggest banking bust in Europe, and that these had to be dealt with. It's inevitable that it will be "choppy and difficult", but the worst thing would be to ditch plans after one quarter of difficult figures.

Miliband proceeded to press the Prime Minister to change his strategy to get the economy moving, but Cameron was having none of it. Getting the deficit down is the priority, he said, and cited the comments today from the head of the OECD that dealing with deficit is the best way to prepare the ground for the future. That's independent, good advice and Miliband should follow it.

But the Labour leader clearly had no intention of doing so. "The economy was growing when we left office," he trumpeted, and asked the Government not to go ahead with taking £20 billion out of the economy this year.

Picture 16 "We've now heard this theory that there was a golden inheritance from the party opposite," Cameron replied with disbelief - "it's one of the most laughable propositions I have ever heard in the House of Commons". Returning to the massive deficit, he referred to Miliband and Balls as "the two gentlemen at the Treasury" working with Gordon Brown when everything was uncontrolled, and they bequeathed a bust system.

Miliband encouraged him again to change course. Cameron said when it comes to changing course, Miliband has "replaced a shadow chancellor who didn't understand Labour's programme with someone who doesn't agree with it". Labour's only plan is to borrow money we haven't got, he said.

The Labour leader expressed surprise that Cameron was raising personnel issues in a week when Andy Coulson resigned after he had clung onto him for months. He went on to cite David Davis's criticism from the weekend that many of the Tory leadership don't have a sense of what a large part of the country feels.

On Ed Balls, Cameron said that if appointing him shadow chancellor was such a good idea, why did Miliband not appoint him in the first place? The key thing is to deal with the deficit and create growth in the private sector, citing the advice of the Bank of England Governor from last night.

Incidentally, Cameron said in reply to a later question from Jesse Norman that the economic inheritance was that of "Gordon Brown's two henchmen at the Treasury".With Balls now in place as shadow chancellor, this is a theme we can expect to be revisited again and again.

In other questions:

  • Replying to DUP MP Nigel Dodds, the Prime MInister announced that Gerry Adams has accepted an office of profit under the Crown - Baron of the Manor of Northstead - in order to resign his seat and cause a by-election in Belfast West.
  • Another DUP MP, Gregory Campbell asked whether the Prime Minister would introduce the fuel duty stabiliser he proposed in opposition. Cameron said that he doesn't believe in making tax changes outside a budget, but that there was a "strong case for looking at this area".
  • Jacob Rees-Mogg won big cheers for citing Lady Thatcher's view that " there is no alternative" to staying on the economic course a Government has set.
  • Replying to a question from Labour MP Tom Watson about phone hacking by journalists, the Prime MInister said that it is wrong and illegal, and that it was right that the DPP is reviewing the evidence - though it was not fair to say the police have not been active.


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