By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter
Today's PMQs was an unusual affair – it was much livelier towards the end than at the beginning. The Miliband-Cameron duel consisted of Miliband asking questions he knew Cameron would never engage with, and Cameron reading out lists of Government schemes.
The first question came from Tory backbencher Karen Lumley, who brought up Christine Lagarde's "shiver" quote – Lagarde said she shivered at the thought of the last government's muddled spending plans to be allowed to go on. This gave the Prime Minister an opportunity to bash Gordon Brown's administration.
Ed Miliband's questioning focused on the Beecroft report – and the split it has caused between the report's author, and the Conservative side of the Coalition, and Vince Cable – and the Lib Dems. On this point, it was notable that no Lib Dems were sitting on the Government's frontbench. Miliband first asked whether the Prime Minister backs Beecroft or Cable in the dispute. Cameron said Beecroft had "a number of excellent ideas", and stressed that he commissioned the report, thus taking some responsibility for it. Instead of answering the question directly, Cameron listed those measures of the Beecroft report that will be implemented.
Miliband decided to focus on the part of the report which recommended making it easier to fire employees. Miliband noted that part of the report said some employees would be sacked for no real reason. Was that a price worth paying, Miliband asked. Cameron responded by saying Labour should be celebrating the fact unemployment is going down. Cameron then read out a list of measures the Government is taking to get business growing. Miliband couldn't support any of the de-regulatory proposals, the Prime Minister said, because "he is in the pocket of the unions". Miliband pointed out Jeremy Hunt and Andy Coulson got a second chance from the Prime Minister, but under the Beecroft report, ordinary workers would not be able to get such a second chance.
Miliband then reeled out his standard question/argument that the Government is cutting taxes for the richest, and making the poor pay off the debt, etc. Cameron reponded with another list of measures to help the low-paid. "This isn't about the trade unions, it's about millions of people up and down the country", said Miliband. "This is about the unions", Cameron responded. Cameron then read a list of proposed strikes during important events – the Olympics, Jubilee week, etc – which Miliband has yet to condemn. Miliband repeated his lines on tax cuts for millionaires, and making it easier to sack workers, and declared "the nasty party is back!". Cameron read out another list of measures the Government is taking.
Backbench questions were far more interesting that the Cam-Mili battle, however.
The DUP's Nigel Dodds asked if the Prime Minister would reaffirm Parliament's decision not to allow prisoners the vote. The Prime Minister gave his full support to Dodds' question, saying "this should be a matter for Parliament to decide, not a foreign court, Parliament has made its decision and I completely agree with it."
In response to another backbench question, the Prime Minister attacked Labour's economic record, and was clearly irked by Ed Balls (who apparently said: "chillax, have another glass of wine"), because he remarked that we wouldn't have low interest rates "if we'd listened to the muttering idiot sitting opposite me". George Osborne enjoyed this remark immensely, and the House erupted, but Mr Speaker, rightly, stepped in and asked the Prime Minister to withdraw the "idiot" remark. Cameron said "of course, of course I will replace it, with the man who left us this enormous deficit and this financial crisis."