By Matthew Barrett
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PMQs was predicted to be a lively affair today – and it was, but not necessarily for the reason anticipated. The Prime Minister's most probing questions came from the Leader of the Opposition, and not from his own backbenchers – who could have caused Mr Cameron some trouble on the issue of giving prisoners the vote.
Before Ed Miliband spoke, Tory Bob Stewart asked the Prime Minister to ensure the Government will use all its powers to investigate the Jimmy Savile allegations. The Prime Minister did not rule out further inquiries into wrongdoing at the BBC.
Ed Miliband then rose. His first line of attack was on energy tariffs. Hadn't the Prime Minister made up his lower energy tariff policy, and hadn't he been caught out? Cameron responded with a list of energy policies which Ed Miliband now advocates, such as the retention of Ofgem, but which he did not put into place when he was the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.
Ed Miliband moved onto the West Coast rail franchise fiasco. Cameron responded to that line of enquiry with comparisons of Labour's energy record with that of the Coalition. Cameron made another point about energy, before sitting down without answering the question about West Coast rail. Ed Miliband sat laughing.
Miliband asked again about West Coast rail, noting the Government's mistakes could have cost £100m, and joking: "its not the ticket that needs upgrading, its the Chancellor that needs upgrading." Cameron responded by noting the existence of an independent investigation into the handling of the franchise bids, and then reeled off a list of policy differences between Labour and the Coalition.
Miliband then mocked something Cameron said in 2010 predicting the Coalition would be competent. Cameron reeled off another list, but an impressive one: "inflation down, unemployment down, crime down, waiting lists down!" Miliband said the Prime Minister was "living in a parallel universe", and that "it's been another disasterous week for his Government", finally mentioning the easy target of the sacking of Andrew Mitchell.
Cameron reiterated his list – inflation down, and so on, before saying "the good news will keep coming" – perhaps a sign of good growth figures expected tomorrow (of which the Prime Minister is given advance notice). Despite that last hint of positive news for the Government, Miliband easily beat the Prime Minister on points in their exchange today.
During questions from backbenchers, a few were of note:
- Peter Bone asked a non-European or anti-Lib Dem question. He was rather loyal, in fact. He noted the fact that Labour "Luddites" opposed a new shopping and leisure development, part of which is in the Corby constituency, where a by-election is taking place
- Sir Peter Tapsell asked why the European Union needed a single banking union, before noting that such a union would lead to German domination of Europe, which would be "anti-democratic". One was reminded of what Sir Peter said during the 2001 general election: "We may not have studied Hitler's Mein Kampf in time but, by heaven, there is no excuse for us not studying the Schröder plan now"
- The most important backbench question came from a Labour MP, Derek Twigg, who wanted the Prime Minister to rule out prisoners' votes. The Prime Minister said the House had previously voted against the idea, and there was no prospect of it, although a new vote could be held "if it helps", but Mr Cameron was clear: "prisoners are not getting the vote under this Government".
> See Paul Goodman's ToryDiary updates on prisoners' votes