By Matthew Barrett
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A subdued exchange between Cameron and Miliband today. Cameron had impressive employment figures to point to – so he did.
Labour's Chris Bryant asked the first question, noting bad employment figures since the recession for women, including in the figures out today. What does the Prime Minister have against women, Bryant ludicrously asked. Cameron said more needs to be done for women, but more than 100,000 more women were employed in the last quarter.
In response to another backbench question, Cameron called the unions "a threat to our economy", and challenged Miliband to say Labour would take no union money until they back down from strike threats. Miliband, of course, did not make any such commitment. Miliband instead said the fall in unemployment is "welcome", but noted long-term unemployment figures are the highest for 17 years.
Cameron agreed with the point, but said the Government's work programme and work experience schemes were many times more effective than the last government's schemes, and were helping the unemployment situation. Miliband called this response "complacent". Miliband moved on to this morning's reports of the Coalition's debt targets being abandoned, and pointed out borrowing is going up under the Coalition. Plan A was failing, Miliband said.
Cameron responded that if Labour were so concerned about borrowing, why do they advocate increasing borrowing? Cameron refused to say if the newspaper reports were correct or not. He then mocked "pre-distribution" as spending money before you get it – that's why we're in the mess we're in, Cameron said. Miliband responded with some tired, populist points about cutting tax for millionaires – and asked the Prime Minister if he will benefit from the 50p cut. Then the two leaders descended into jokes – Cameron noted Miliband's latest "guru" was named J Hacker, and had written a book called "The Road to Nowhere" – and Miliband needn't read it, he's there already. Miliband complimented Cameron on having such a "butch answer".
Backbench questions were a little more interesting:
- Nick Gibb, the recently sacked Education Minister, asked a fairly ordinary question about an infirm constituent, and received many cheers from Tory MPs when he stood up to do so.
- Shailesh Vara, a sacked Whip, received the same welcome.
- A Labour MP asked why several sacked male Ministers were given knighthoods, but no women Ministers were given damehoods. Cameron gave a non-answer, saying we should honour ministers who've served Parliament. He looked awkward responding to the question.
- Penny Mordaunt said there would be a detrimental effect on morale if the Army was asked to deal with strike situations. Cameron didn't adequately answer, and instead tried to turn the question into one about how well the Army performed during the Olympics.
- When asked to defend HS2 by a Labour MP, the Prime Minister said it was "for the good of our country".
- A Labour MP asked whether Cameron would give back the donations of Asil Nadir, if they were stolen. Cameron ridiculously answered that Labour should give back union donations, ignoring the fact that union donations are legally acquired.
- There were no questions on the EU, €urozone, or anything relating to Europe, despite the big speech by Jose Manuel Barroso calling for a federation of European states.