Conservative Diary


20 Mar 2013 12:28:25

David Cameron uses PMQs to confirm that he's considering more intervention in Syria

By Tim Montgomerie
Follow Tim on Twitter

Ed Miliband asked a first set of questions about the banking crisis in Cyprus. Cameron replied by saying that the UK has exempted itself from €urozone rescue deals but, on a general point, he stated that deposit protection schemes should be respected.

Ed Miliband's second set of questions focus on whether the arms embargo to Syria should be lifted. David Cameron replies by saying that the current set of policies are clearly not working and 70,000 people have already died under Assad's "hateful regime". The Labour leader struck a very cautious note, worrying that the situation could be made worse if the arms embargo was lifted. The PM replied that the discussions of EU leaders that he had intended reminded him of the arguments made in the 1990s with regard to Bosnia. The British government - along with France - is clearly tip-toeing towards a more interventionist policy.


David Cameron reaffirmed Britain's commitment to the aid budget. He said that Britain should be proud of its help for the hungriest people of the world. The IF campaign ran the above photo stunt yesterday to urge the Chancellor to maintain aid spending. He has. This year Britain will become the first major economy to hit the UN's 0.7% development target. I am proud that that has happened under a Tory PM and Chancellor.

13 Mar 2013 13:10:17

PMQs: Ed Milband steals the show with brewery joke

By Harry Phibbs
Follow Harry on Twitter

The media were more interested in a later encounter today with David Cameron and Ed Miliband to see if agreement can be reached on press regulation. It would seem unlikely as Mr Miliband has been keen to trumpet his credentials of "taking on Murdoch" and "standing up to the press barons."

However it was a lively Prime Minister's Questions which saw a confident performance by the Labour leader.

Mr Miliband started with a rather good joke about the minimum alcohol pricing U-turn:

"Can the Prime Minister tell us if there is anything that he could organise in a brewery?"

I suppose his gag writer John O'Farrell is no longer distracted by the Eastleigh byelection. Anyway it gave Mr Miliband a great psychological boost. His supporters roared, the Tory benches were subdued.

Mr Miliband didn't tell us whether or not he supported minimum pricing. But then he didn't need to.

Continue reading "PMQs: Ed Milband steals the show with brewery joke" »

13 Mar 2013 10:02:54

Go on, Mr Cameron – scrap PMQs

By Peter Hoskin
Follow Peter on Twitter


It’s Wednesday again, and you know what that means: Prime Minister’s Questions at noon. Tweeters are readying their #pmqs hash-tags. Journalists are speculating as to what will be said. MPs are clearing their throats, better to cheer or jeer with. And, right about now, the PM himself will be preparing and preparing and preparing.

It’s the sort of thing that political nerds live for. But, speaking as one of those nerds myself, I’m growing rather tired of this weekly carnival. PMQs has never really delivered many great revelations, but now it seems more wearily predictable that ever. The variations on the themes of “more borrowing” and “too far, too fast”. The planted questions and scripted attacks. The phony applause and caterwauling. This may be fun political theatre, but it rarely casts its players in a flattering light.

Continue reading "Go on, Mr Cameron – scrap PMQs" »

6 Mar 2013 13:24:53

PMQs: What on earth is Miliband on?

Screen shot 2013-03-06 at 13.21.07
By Paul Goodman

Follow Paul on Twitter.

Labour has been well ahead of the Conservatives in the polls since last year's budget.  This year's approaches without renewed prosperity in sight, and with the deficit stubbornly high.  It will be followed by one of the most fractious spending rounds in history, with the Coalition partners at odds both between and within themselves.  The Deputy Prime Minister is under pressure over allegations about misconduct by his party's Chief Executive.  The Prime Minister is under pressure from UKIP, his Liberal Democrats partners, unhappy backbenchers and a restive party.  Serious political commentators suggest that his Home Secretary and Defence Secretary are joining forces in a leadership plot.

So all that Ed Miliband has to do to win outright next time, surely, is to fix a single problem: that neither he nor his Shadow Chancellor are trusted on the economy.  So what did he do in PMQs today?

Continue reading "PMQs: What on earth is Miliband on?" »

27 Feb 2013 12:35:36

You're just like Gordon Brown. Cameron begins new push to paint Ed Miliband as an unrepentant big spender.

By Tim Montgomerie
Follow Tim on Twitter

It was not Ed Miliband's best PMQs. On the face of it he had an open goal with the ratings downgrade but, as I suggested on Twitter, the increased resonance of the deficit issue may not be to Labour's strategic advantage. The Tories have a small lead on economic competence but a much larger lead when it comes to taking the tough decisions necessary to restore balance to the public finances. The more voters are thinking about the deficit the worse it's going to be for Labour.

Miliband with Brown hairDavid Cameron seemed to appreciate that today. I’m not arguing for one moment, he told the Commons, that the judgment of the ratings agency doesn’t matter. The PM went on to argue that the message from Moody's was that Britain needed to go further and faster in tackling borrowing. He then went on to the attack. It’s Labour’s policy to deal with the problem of excessive borrowing by borrowing more, he claimed. He then joked that Daniel Day-Lewis had played Abraham Lincoln very well but not as well as Ed Miliband was playing Gordon Brown. A confident Cameron said that he wasn't going to take lectures from a political party that sold the nation's gold, bust the banks, caused the deficit and wasn't willing to apologise for any of it.

The PM said the Government already had big achievements. The deficit was down by a quarter, one million more private sector jobs had been created and Britain was benefiting from low interest rates. Ed Miliband protested that the deficit was going up and that the Coalition would be borrowing £212 billion more than it had originally planned. This, the Labour leader said, was a downgraded government, a downgraded Chancellor and a downgraded prime minister.

Mr Miliband may not have improved his relations with the New Statesman, however. The PM quoted the weekly magazine and the Leader of the Opposition replied by saying that the PM was "scraping the barrel" by doing so. I can't imagine its Editor, the admirable Jason Cowley, will like that. The New Statesman was the only serious journal to endorse the Labour leader's bid to succeed Gordon Brown!

13 Feb 2013 13:43:35

Cameron and Miliband tussle over living standards – not for the first time, and certainly not for the last

By Peter Hoskin
Follow Peter on Twitter

If you were hoping for something new from today’s PMQs exchange between David Cameron and Ed Miliband, then I’m afraid you’d have been left disappointed. The Labour leader used recent warnings from Mervyn King and from the Resolution Foundation to reheat one of his favourite themes: the cost of living. ‘Will living standards be better in 2015 than in 2010?’ he kept inquiring. While, for his part, the Prime Minister deployed some of his most time-worn responses: clearing up the mess that Labour left behind; they’ve got no policies; raising the personal income tax threshold, etc, etc. The two men managed to contrive a weary no-score draw between them.

But just because the script was familiar, it doesn’t mean that it lacked significance. Mr Miliband was surely right when he pointed out, in a plaintive echo of Ronald Reagan, that voters will be asking themselves whether they’re better off at the next election – and, with prices still rising faster than wages, there’s every chance that some will answer in the negative. The Conservatives need to develop rhetoric and policy to counter this possibility. As it happens, Mr Cameron’s favourite line today—and one I’m sure we’ll hear from him a lot more—was that a full-time worker on the minimum wage has seen their income tax bill halved under this Government. “They’re the people we stand for,” he said.

Continue reading "Cameron and Miliband tussle over living standards – not for the first time, and certainly not for the last" »

6 Feb 2013 12:52:58

You hate the poor. You can't take any tough decision. Another forgettable PMQs.

By Tim Montgomerie
Follow Tim on Twitter

Not a memorable PMQs and it will be overshadowed by the PM's Statement on the Francis Report (of which more later). But a few points:

  • Ed Miliband asked about the so-called bedroom tax and contrasted it with the Chancellor's decision to rule out a mansion-style tax. Labour MPs asked coordinated questions later in the session, backing up the Leader of the Opposition's attempt to paint the Coalition as making harsh cuts while protecting the rich.
  • Cameron's response was to justify the decision to end the anomaly whereby people in social housing received more help than people in private rented accommodation but also in receipt of housing benefit. He also noted today's IFS report which concluded that the Coalition had "hit the richest households hardest". Even The Mirror's Kevin Maguire has previously acknowledged this.
  • If Ed Miliband wanted to suggest the Coalition was on the wrong side of the fairness debate Mr Cameron wanted to say Labour was on the wrong side of the tough decisions debate. Housing benefit, the PM said, was costing £23 billion and yet again Labour opposed tough decisions - as they had on benefits uprating and the benefits cap.

Continue reading "You hate the poor. You can't take any tough decision. Another forgettable PMQs." »

30 Jan 2013 13:46:32

Miliband targets Osborne (and Osborne’s fiscal policy, natch) in PMQs

By Peter Hoskin
Follow Peter on Twitter

Watching the exchange between David Cameron and Ed Miliband in PMQs today, you’d be forgiven for thinking: haven’t we been here before? On one side, we had the Labour leader attacking the Coalition for its fiscal policy and the effect, he claims, it is having on growth. On the other, the Prime Minister defending the Coalition’s economic record and slamming Labour for both their legacy and their free-borrowing attitude since. Almost all of the reference points were familiar: “what a complacent answer”, “one million jobs in the private sector”, “borrowing £212 billion more than he anticipated”, “the deficit is down by a quarter,” and so on and so on. It was difficult to stay tuned in.   

Yet there were some small differences from what has gone before. For starters, both Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband managed to distil their attacks into new sound-bites—“Labour has a three point plan: more spending, more borrowing, more debt,” and “The Prime Minister promises a better tomorrow, and tomorrow never comes,” respectively—that I expect we’ll hear again. And the Labour leader could also lean on last week’s growth figures, as well as the false claim about debt made in the Tories’ recent party political broadcast. These factors made Mr Cameron look relatively uncomfortable overall, and probably shaded the contest for Mr Miliband.

But the most striking element of the leaders’ exchange was the time devoted by Mr Miliband to attacking George Osborne, directly and personally. We’re used to some of the lines he deployed—“part-time Chancellor”, etc.—but this was much more concerted than usual. “Perhaps the part-time Chancellor should spend more time worrying about the economy,” began the Labour leader, “and less time worrying about diverting high speed rail routes away from his constituency” – and he would have gone on had the Speaker not then interrupted him. The Prime Minister was able to deny the story in question, but you sense that Labour are targeting Mr Osborne for a reason and may keep on doing it.  

As for the backbench questions, a number of themes emerged:

  • Andrew Griffiths urged the PM to scrap the beer duty escalator, and received a response that wasn’t entirely unfavourable. “The government has plans…” hinted Mr Cameron, which may intrigue those backbenchers currently pushing for a “cost of living Budget”.
  • Richard Drax and Adrian Sanders, a Tory and a Lib Dem, asked questions about cuts to rescue services – specifically, to the coast guard and to “search and rescue”. It was a reminder that even Coalition MPs are concerned about the impact of fiscal tightening on the business end of the public sector.
  • And, as in the past few weeks, more than one Labour MP frothed about Mr Cameron’s “failure to visit a food bank”. The PM answered, to the first, that he has plans to do just that – and soon. When the second asked exactly the same question it looked… well, a little peculiar.

Mr Cameron seemed to grow in confidence as the session went on. When Labour’s Alex Cunningham asked the funniest question of the day—“Is it true that traces of stalking horse have been found in the Conservative Party food chain?”—it unsteadied the Prime Minister for a second, before he came back with a sharp response: “The Conservative Party has always stood up for people who want to work hard and get on. And I'm glad the people behind me take that very seriously indeed.”

And then Mr Cameron ended with a bit of fire. When George Galloway asked why the Government is attacking the Islamists in Mali but supporting the “equally bloodthirsty jihadists” in Syria, he replied curtly: “Wherever there is a brutal Arab dictator in the world, he'll have the support of the honourable member.” And then there was a warning for those who voted down the border reforms: “Those who voted in favour of existing constituency boundaries—that are both costly and unfair—they will have to justify that to their constituents.”

And with that, the PM’s off to Algeria.

23 Jan 2013 13:40:42

Ed Miliband issues the Anti People’s Pledge in PMQs

By Peter Hoskin
Follow Peter on Twitter

If any line abides from today’s session of PMQs, it will be one said by Ed Miliband. “My position is no,” quivered the Labour leader, “we don’t want an in/out referendum.” And it’s a position that you can expect to see repeated not just on the news later, but on Tory campaign literature and posters. Labour, they will say, don’t want to listen to the public. They aren’t doing the democratic thing.

And so it was that David Cameron triumphed in PMQs. This was a more favourable setting for the Prime Minister than it has been for many months. Not only was Ed Miliband pitching for the “we won’t let you vote” vote, but the Tory backbenches were offering up full-throated support to their leader. Combined with today’s encouraging employment news, it was more than enough to drown out any concerns about the impending growth figures. Mr Cameron was confident and clinical, not least in his quip at Sir Menzies Campbell’s expense, that “an in/out referendum was very much part of his party’s manifesto at the last election”.

Continue reading "Ed Miliband issues the Anti People’s Pledge in PMQs" »

16 Jan 2013 13:31:04

PMQs: Miliband paints Cameron as a weak leader. The merits of the argument weren't on his side. But the politics was.

By Paul Goodman
Follow Paul on Twitter.

The British people are among the most Euro-sceptic in the EU.  It follows that Labour's take on the EU project is less aligned to their view than the Conservative one.  Ed Miliband is against attempts to repatriate powers. He is opposed to a referendum.  He hasn't ruled out a Labour Government joining the Euro.  So what on earth was he doing raising an issue at Prime Minister's Questions today over which his instincts are at odds with those of most voters ?

The answer is he would give, were he being candid, is: never mind the issues, stick to the politics.  Labour has its own differences on EU policy.  But on what we might call the Michael Gove question - were there an In/Out referendum now, how would you vote? - it is less diverse than within the Conservative Party, including the Cabinet: James Forsyth recently reminded Spectator readers that "at least nine Cabinet members would be inclined to vote ‘out’ in the referendum".

Continue reading "PMQs: Miliband paints Cameron as a weak leader. The merits of the argument weren't on his side. But the politics was. " »