By Matthew Barrett
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As expected, Labour leader Ed Miliband opened his questions to the Prime Minister with one on unemployment. "Given that unemployment rose by 114,000 today, isn't it time he admitted his plan isn't working". Mr Cameron responded: "These are very disappointing figures". Mr Cameron then stated that the Coalition has in place "the biggest back-to-work programme since the 1930s", which will help 2.5million. Mr Cameron then said welfare reform, improving education standards, and more apprenticeships were all schemes to help reverse the flow of unemployment.
Mr Miliband was insistent: "it's not working", and demanded the Prime Minister accept responsibility for the economic situation. Mr Cameron answered defensively. He said he "accepts responsibility for everything that happens in our economy". He then gave his standard response: Labour is ultimately responsible for the country's economic woes due to their 13 years in office. Mr Cameron further pointed out that Ed Miliband's desired plans would leave Britain looking like the troubled economies on the continent.
"I want him to change course", in order to create jobs, Mr Miliband said. Mr Miliband asked when women's unemployment was last as high as it is now. Mr Cameron rejected the question, calling Mr Miliband's assertion about women's unemployment factually incorrect.
Mr Miliband again pointed at women's unemployment, demanding the Prime Minister apologise to women. Mr Miliband moved on to a question about businesses taking part in a National Insurance holiday for startups. Mr Miliband noted the Prime Minister had said it would help 400,000 businesses. Mr Cameron was asked how many it actually helped. The answer? 7,000.
Mr Cameron gave another stock response: Britain would have to be asking the IMF for help, under Labour's plans. Mr Cameron asked when Labour would wake up to the fact a country cannot borrow its way out of a debt crisis. Mr Miliband simply responded "What a terrible answer." He then over-reached himself by claiming the energy industry is changing its behaviour because of his urging it to do so. The Tory back-benches were delighted.
Mr Miliband then made his first and only reference to the Liam Fox saga: he said "the Prime Minister is fighting to save the job of the Defence Secretary, but he's doing nothing to save the jobs of hundreds of thousands of people up and down this country. It's one rule if you're in the Cabinet, and another rule for everyone else." Mr Cameron brushed off the question, and likened Miliband to Walter Mitty, and noted the Balls-Miliband duo's role in the downfall of the economy during the Labour years.
Some notes on backbench questions:
- The Father of the House, Sir Peter Tapsell called for bankers to be punished for wrongdoing. Mr Cameron confirmed criminals should be punished.
- Labour backbenchers were clearly primed to ask questions about the Fox affair that Miliband didn't want to ask – doubtless for fear of seeming partisan. Nia Griffith (Llanelli) asked whether the Prime Minister had met Liam Fox's associate Adam Werritty, and whether he would publish records of meetings between government staff and Mr Werrity in an official or social capacity. "I'm very happy to look at that", said the Prime Minister.
- Another Labour backbencher, Pat Glass (North West Durham) asked whether Ministers who break the ministerial code should be allowed to keep their jobs. "The ministerial code is very clear that in the end it is for the Prime Minister to decide whether someone keeps their job or not." In the case of the Defence Secretary, the Cabinet Secretary should investigate fully and "establish the facts" before a decision can be made. He added "I think the Defence Secretary has done an excellent job clearing up the complete mess that he was left by Labour".
- Labour MP Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth) asked a question about the Prime Minister's press secretary, Gabby Bertin – who allegedly knew Adam Werritty. The Prime Minister urged "a little patience" and said the inquiry should proceed fully before any decisions are made.
- Tory MP Henry Smith (Crawley) referenced a TaxPayers' Alliance report on fatcat union bosses, and their earnings. The Prime Minister said Labour "will always listen to the unions, but not the TaxPayers' Alliance", because "they don't want to hear about excessive pay in the public sector, or local government, or their paymasters the trade unions".