PMQs report 04/02/2009

Once again, the economy is high on the agenda – however, this week sees a turn in focus – particularly with regard to the recent strikes. The opposition was seizing (as I expected) on Gordon Brown’s “British jobs for British workers” slogan, stating that it had encarouged protectionist sentiment in the workforce. This was directly linked by Mr. Cameron to Brown’s response concerning the US House of Representatives decision to pass what he termed “buy America” legislation that has allowed for American protectionism. Mr Cameron accused Mr Brown of being “guilty” as to promoting protectionism with his statement. The front bench consensus within the party is that protectionism is not the way forward. When a statement like that is made after the declaration to which to opposition allude, it will obviously be seized upon for what may rightly or wrongly bolster the opposition on all sides of the House. I am delighted that Mr Brown’s first response was not to quote “do nothing” but to ask if anyone in the house says they do not want British workers to get the skills they need to compete in the job market.

Whilst that is not directly protectionist, linking it to that original “British jobs” statement was ill-thought out. I can completely understand however why it was said – the Labour Party are facing a large threat to the original voter base from the British National Party. This is seen very much in the strikes over the weekend, as the far-right Solidarity trade union attempted to hijack Unite for their own opportunist gain. Mr Cameron would do well to remember that trying to balance moderate leftism and seeing of the BNP challenge are not easy things to do! He ended his questions by stating that the Prime Minister refuses to admit mistakes – well, this is not exactly anything new. Typical opposition bench rhetoric stated since time immortal. Mr Brown retorted with a claim that Mr Cameron had “talked down” the British economy and ought to be ashamed, cue howling and shouting in the chamber.

Other issues/questions raised today included:

  • Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg stated that large firms are using loopholes to avoid paying £14bn in taxes. Interesting to see that once again he has raised the tax-dodging issue. Mr Brown stated that the government would clamp down on the problem, but quipped that if Mr Clegg wanted to crack down on “fat cats” he could start with Michael Brown, convicted fraudster currently on the run from the authorities and the Lib Dems biggest donor.

  • Labour MP Jim Cunningham asks about the possibility of more local authority mortgages. Mr Brown responds by saying that he is encarouging local authorities with those powers to do so.

  • Lib Dem MP Andrew George states that schemes to ensure supermarkets pay suppliers in the developing world more quickly should be fast tracked. The PM says he is working on it.

  • Labour MP David Clelland criticises the Conservatives’ attitude to rural buses. The PM agrees.
  • Veteran Conservative MP Sir Patrick Cormack asks the three parties to meet to find a “common ground” on the economy (I might add that this is the first sensible statement I have heard in the Commons today). Mr Brown states that he is willing to work with the other parties, but points to their inconsistencies.

So ends another PMQs. The Prime Minister is a dirty job, not highly rewarding but everyone in Westminster wants to do it.

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