Friday, February 12, 2010

House Points: Prime minister's questions

My House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News. You may recognise it as a distillation of an earlier effort at live blogging PMQs.

Brown conversion

Useless. However much you fiddle with it, it just doesn’t work. It might as well not be there at all.

Not this government, but my central heating last week. Which is why I found myself at home last Wednesday, waiting for the repair man to call. At least it gave me the chance to watch prime minister’s questions on televison.

David Cameron was sharp. He referred to evidence given to the Chilcot Inquiry that morning and landed a blow on Brown’s sudden enthusiasm for the Alternative Vote by quoting Paddy Ashdown’s diaries. In discussions on electoral reform Tony Blair would say time after time: “yeh Paddy, I agree, but I can’t get it past Gordon.”

But it was noticeable that Cameron avoided questions on the economy, where his own party has recently been confused. And there remains something of Flashman about him. For all his studied reasonableness, you sense there is a fag quaking outside a study door somewhere, awaiting an altercation over a burnt piece of toast.

Nick Clegg gave a confident performance, asking why Trident – a Cold War system “designed to flatten Moscow at the touch of a button” – has not been included in the defence review. It was also noticeable how respectful the prime minister was to him. It’s wonderful what the prospect of a hung parliament will do.

Lembit Opik’s question on unemployment in Montgomeryshire was also treated with respect: John Hemming’s on the No. 41 bus in Birmingham perhaps less so.

As to Gordon Brown, last Wednesday revealed a weakness of his world view. Repeatedly, when pressed on a failure of his government, he replied that it was spending more on that area than ever before.

Of course the Conservatives, given to promising both better public services and lower taxes, have to be challenged. But if record defence spending coincides with poorly equipped British troops in Afghanistan then something more fundamental is wrong. And it is no answer to the charge that health spending is skewed towards Labour-held constituencies to boast about that spending’s overall level.

It turned out that my central heating needs a new motorised valve and could do with a new filter and a power flush. Gordon Brown’s thinking could do with a power flush too.

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