By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter.
Today's PMQs was bound to be a lively affair – George Osborne's tax cut/non-tax-rise dominated affairs. It was a tricky issue for both sides: Tories naturally support tax cuts, but had been made to defend the fuel duty increase until yesterday, while Labour MPs know it will benefit their constituents, but like attacking any u-turn they can.
Ed Miliband started off by reminding the Prime Minister of his assertion that he could defend all of his Budget. How could this be so, Miliband asked, if so much of it has already been u-turned upon. Cameron decided to attack Labour – the fuel duty increase had been planned by Labour. He claimed the decision not to increase fuel duty "cannot be a u-turn" since it was getting rid of "a Labour tax rise".
Miliband asked why, if Cameron was so opposed to the tax increase, George Osborne failed to tell the Cabinet or Conservative MPs about the imminent scrapping of the increase. Cameron ignored the question, instead saying the non-rise would help hard-working families. Cameron said Miliband should congratulate the Government for helping "people who work hard and do the right thing".
Miliband replied by asking why figures released yesterday showed borrowing has increased since last year. Cameron again ignored the question, and returned to attacking Labour's record on fuel. Miliband then pointed out that the non-rise only came about after Ed Balls called for the Government not to raise it. Miliband went on to call the Government "not just economically incompetent, but unfair too". It gives tax cuts to millionaires, but puts up tax on the lowest paid, he said.
Balls was the architect of the tax increase in the first place, Cameron said. Cameron also noted that the top rate of tax is 45p – 5p more than under Labour. Miliband then attacked George Osborne for disappearing after making the non-rise announcement – and letting another Treasury Minister appear on Newsnight. Cameron said Osborne had announced the non-rise in the House.
Miliband moved on to his final, strange line of inquiry – he asked why Cameron attacked Jimmy Carr for avoiding tax, yet gave a tax cut for the millionaires in his Party. It was "one rule for the comedians on stage, another for the comedians in Cabinet", he said. Cameron replied that "no wonder he's touchy about tax avoidance", Ken Livingstone had just been voted top of the list for Labour's NEC.
There was plenty of jeering and noise from the backbenches throughout the exchange, but there was not much in the way of solid answers. While Ed Miliband was not able to land any solid blows on Cameron, Cameron failed to answer directly a noticeable number of the questions Miliband asked of him.
During backbench questions, Bernard Jenkin asked whether an upcoming EU summit or Lords reform would do more to help jobs and growth in Britain. There was, again, no real answer from Cameron. The Prime Minister simply went for the European half of the question, and outlined the Government's views on the €urozone.
Finally, Liz Kendall, a Labour MP, asked whether O-Levels and CSEs were being brought back. The Prime Minister, without mentioning either of the aforementioned qualifications, said he was fully behind a more "rigorous" examination system, thus giving his full support to Michael Gove and his new proposals.