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By Matthew Barrett
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PMQs 5 sep 2012

The first PMQs for months. A reshuffle, which newspapers have framed as a "lurch to the right" and bad for women, and Save the Children holding a campaign to raise awareness of poverty not in the third world but in Britain. Ed Miliband had plenty to bash the Government with.

To top it all off, Dennis Skinner had the first question. Was the Prime Minister aware his new "B team" reshuffle hadn't registered with the public?, Skinner asked. Skinner added that the booing of George Osborne and Theresa May at Paralympics medal ceremonies in recent days showed the true feelings of the public. He should "be a man" and call an election, Skinner said. Cameron jovially batted away the question.


Nadine Dorries was the second backbench MP to ask a question. Dorries asked whether, given Nick Clegg reneged on the boundaries-for-AV-referendum deal, if the Prime Minister was presented with a boundaries-for-state-funding-of-political-parties deal, he would reject it. Cameron did not say no, he simply said he opposed state funding of parties.

Ed Miliband started his questions. He noted Cameron saying he wanted to "cut through the dither", and asked who could he have in mind. Cameron replied that Miliband had all summer to come up with a question, and that was all he could think of. Miliband noted that the Prime Minister's solution to having one part-time Chancellor, Osborne, was to appoint another, Ken Clarke. 

Miliband started on the serious questions, asking how many infrastructure projects have started since the Government announced its infrastructure programme. Cameron first responded to the previous Osborne jibe, saying "I've got my first choice as Chancellor, he's got his third choice as Shadow Chancellor". Cameron then made an odd joke about Miliband having to make Ed Balls' coffee, which proved he wasn't "assertive and butch". Ed Balls looked murderous. Cameron then deflected the infrastructure question.

Miliband tried another serious question, asking how many houses had been built since the new Government housing strategy was launched. Cameron said house-building was up 30%, and then blamed the recession on Ed Balls, who caused it during his time as "City Minister". Miliband replied that Cameron can only attack others because he has no record to defend. 

Miliband asked another serious question, this time on planning. Cameron protested that when Labour were in office, planning guidelines were 1,000 pages long, but are now only a few pages long. Cameron then reeled off a list of policies Labour hadn't yet come up with. He looked flustered, in contrast to Miliband's calm and collected behaviour. Cameron attacked Labour for wanting to "put up the debt", ignoring the Coalition's willingness to do exactly that. The Tory backbenches failed to support the Prime Minister as wholeheartedly as they might have done, say, a year ago. Perhaps Andrew Mitchell hasn't had time to influence backbenchers, but the Prime Minister would have expected better from his new Chief Whip.

"Back to the bunker", Ed Miliband said dismissively. Miliband asked the Prime Minister to admit "Plan A" had failed. The private sector is "growing and expanding", Cameron responded, reeling off another list of points about the private sector. We're in the longest recession since the Second World War, Miliband noted in response. 

Finally, Miliband called the reshuffle a "no-change" one, since the Prime Minister didn't move against Jeremy Hunt, Osborne, or indeed himself. Cameron protested it was a "strong and united Government".

One note about a backbench question. John McDonnell, a far-left Labour MP, whose constituency suffers from being near to Heathrow Airport, asked Cameron to confirm there would be no third runway for as long as Cameron was leader. The only assurance Cameron gave was "I will not be breaking my manifesto pledge" – which, as expected, leaves the Conservatives free to argue for one in 2015. 

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