By Matthew Barrett
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Ed Miliband had rather an open goal at Prime Minister's Questions this afternoon. This morning's disappointing growth figures (-0.2% GDP growth) presented Mr Miliband with an opportunity to re-state his idea that the Government's economic policies are not working, that the Government should change course, the correct policy is continued "investment" in public services, etc.
Mr Miliband, in his first question, said the figures "show our economy is not growing, it's shrinking. What has gone wrong with his economic plan?". Mr Cameron said the figures came as a result of the debt and deficit left by Labour, fuel and food prices, and the €urozone crisis. Mr Miliband said "people are fed up with his excuses". He said "total arrogance" had characterised the Government's economic plans. Mr Miliband asked "how bad do things have to get in our economy to shake him out of his complacency?"
Mr Cameron replied "As usual, he wrote his response before he heard the answer". Mr Cameron listed measures the Government has taken – such as apprenticeship schemes – to boost growth. Mr Cameron claimed increased borrowing under a Miliband administration would lead to higher interest rates and even more negative economic figures.
Mr Miliband responded "he and his Chancellor are but the by-word for self-satisfied, smug complacency" and continued "he's failing not just on unemployment, not just on growth, but on unemployment as well, because of his failure on growth and unemployment, he's borrowing £158billion more than he forecast". Mr Miliband asked "when will the Prime Minister face up to the fact it is his policies that are failing our country?"
Mr Cameron pointed out "our economy grew last year… there are more people in work today than there were at the last election." Mr Cameron said Ed Balls had advised the Government to listen to the IMF and change course. Mr Cameron pointed out the IMF report, released after Balls' comments, was supportive of the Government.
Mr Miliband (who split his question in two parts) chose to begin his second section of questions on the NHS. Mr Miliband asked how the NHS reforms are progressing. Mr Cameron responded with an endorsement of the reforms from a doctor based in Doncaster (Mr Miliband's home city). Mr Miliband replied with quotes condemning the reforms. Mr Miliband further quoted Mr Cameron saying the medical profession should be on board with any reforms – which doctors and nurses are not, at present.
Mr Cameron responded with statistics including facts on infections and doctor numbers, which suggested the NHS had improved under the Government already. Mr Milliband angrily responded, demanding the Prime Minister "drop this unecessary and unwanted Bill". Mr Cameron replied "I know he panics and backs down at the first time of a trade union saying no, but this Government doesn't." Mr Cameron said it was a tough, but right, decision to introduce choice and transparency into the NHS and concluded: "What a shame, they talk about it in Government, but they haven't got the guts to face down opposition, when they're in Opposition."
Some notes on backbench questions:
- Father of the House Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) said "for Britain to commit still more funds to the IMF would, in effect, be providing a subsidy to Germany". Mr Cameron said "there shouldn't be a question of committing more IMF funds" to support the €urozone, only to support individual countries.
- Pat McFadden (Lab, Wolverhampton South East) asked why the Government has given certain terrorist suspects the ability to travel to London – against a judge's orders, especially in the Olympic year. Mr Cameron said the Government had given the security services all the powers needed to keep the country safe.
- Five Conservative backbenchers (Eric Ollerenshaw, Chris Skidmore, Bob Stewart, Paul Maynard and Chris Kelly) supported the Government's £26,000 benefits cap, and invited the Prime Minister to condemn Labour peers' opposition to the legislation allowing for the cap. Mr Cameron, in response to Mr Ollerenshaw called the peers' voting, despite their leadership announcing its support for a benefits cap, "a complete act of hypocrisy".