By Peter Hoskin
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session of PMQs began rather gently, even constructively. The subject that held
sway was the military. Not only did David Cameron take time to wish our troops
a Merry Christmas; not only did he announce that there
will be medals for veterans of the Arctic convoy missions; but Ed Miliband
also used his first two questions to ask about the plans for withdrawing from
Afghanistan. At this point, not a creature was stirring — not even Ed Balls.
the mood soured rapidly with Mr Miliband’s third or fourth question. It was
about food banks and the increasing numbers of people using them. Here, Mr
Cameron paid tribute to the work done by these charitable outlets — which Harry
Phibbs has just
written about on the Local Government section of the site — but was jeered
as soon as he mentioned the Big Society. “I never thought the Big Society was
about feeding hungry children in Britain,” sneered the Labour leader.
presaged what seemed to be a concerted attack from the Labour benches, suggesting
that the Tories are taking Britain back to harsher times:
Miliband supported his attack on poverty and hunger by mentioning the recent
sighting of Mr Cameron together with Rebekah Brooks. “Where was he this
weekend?” he chirruped. “Back to his old ways: partying with Rebekah Brooks, no
doubt looking forward to the Boxing Day hunt.”
Anderson asked a follow-up question about food banks which involved the phrase “back
to the 1930s”.
Flello accused the Prime Minister of having a “Dickensian view of the country.”
This, he added, means “workhouses for the many”.
Ian Lavery raised the tragic case of one of his constituents, who, he said, had
committed suicide after his discovering that he was no longer entitled to disability
benefits. “This is 2012,” he implored. “We’re meant to be a civilised country”.
It was a moving question, and another reminder that the Tories should
not be blasé about the effect of benefit cuts on people’s lives.
his part, Mr Cameron dealt with these questions punchily or — in the case of
the last — graciously. His general point was a familiar one: that the Government
is trying to contain the deficit, but is also helping the least well-off
through measures such as raising the income tax threshold. But it also seemed to me that
he mentioned inflation, and the importance of keeping it low, more often than
he normally does. Perhaps the PM isn’t too keen on NGDP
targeting, after all.
for other questions, there was one from Rob Wilson about the Andrew Mitchell
affair: could the Prime Minister assure us that “no stone would be left
unturned” in the hunt for the truth? And Mr Cameron’s response was carefully
weighted: he paid tribute to the police in general, but added that “a police
officer posing as a member of the public and sending an email, possibly to blacken
the name of a Cabinet minister, is a very serious issue and does need proper
after, there was another mood-shift — to end-of-term jollity. Labour’s Tom
Blenkinsop asked the PM about his hunting habits. Kevin Brennan sifted through
the Christmas viewing schedules to make a few lame jokes (“It’s Not a Wonderful
Life”). And Mr Cameron returned with an extended gag about Ed Balls and Father
Christmas and “give him the sack”, etc, etc. So, that’s the serious business of
PMQs over with for another year. It was probably a score draw today, if you’ve been keeping count.