Jowell, Byrne, Hain and Harman look on as Cameron takes another swing at Brown
Overall, it was fairly boring this week. Only two Conservative backbenchers stood out: Redwood and Howarth, and the Brown/Cameron exchange and the Brown/Clegg exchange are worth watching in the vids. Gwyn Prosser, Labour MP for Dover asked again about the forced sale of the Port of Dover.
Brown was flanked by Harman and Hain, who's face was a picture of sunny adoration as he gazed up at our own Dear DH. All in all it began rather subdued and resembled a Still Life tableau. Not for long though.
Brown paid tribute to Ashok Kumar, the Labour MP who died suddenly this week and to the three soldiers kia in Afghanistan though I wasn't clear whether he accounted for the two soldiers reported killed this morning. "1st Battalion Royal Angligan [sic]Regiment attached to the Household Cavalry Regiment battlegroup..."
Baldry, (Con, Banbury) asked re Chilcot and discrepancies between accounts in defence expenditure. "Will the PM now set the record straight and will he write to Chilcot to ensure their record is also corrected?"
Brown: "Yes Mr Speaker and I am already writing to Lord Sir John Chilcock [sic] about this issue... Defence spending rose from £21bn to this year around £40bn from 1997 to this day... " This was not greeted well by Cons b/benchers. "..but I do accept that in some years defence expenditure did not rise in real terms." Amazing, that must be a first for Brown to actually admit something.
Plaskitt (Lab, Warwick & Leamington) was on his feet next asking a question about Surestart and no one was taking any bets that Brown would use it to accuse the Conservatives of wanting to cut it. True to form he bemoaned the lack of "all party consensus" and attacked the Cons for a policy which they do not actually hold. The Conservatives, however, didn't take it lying down, which amused Jack Straw no end. I wish someone would move the microphone further away from Brown's stabbing fingers - bang, bang, bang on the dispatch box.
After acknowledging and associating himself with the tributes paid Cameron went on to thank Brown for answering Baldry's question about defence expenditure: "In three years of asking the PM questions I don't think I've ever heard him make a correction or a retraction ... there have been years when there have been real terms cuts and at last the PM has admitted it." Cue Brown smirk.
Cameron moved on to the BA strike. Brown's thoughts are"with the customers of BA and my thoughts also are with those who depend for their jobs on the success of BA... I don't think an industrial relations dispute should be brought into the House of Commons in this way." Called for a consensual resol-yewshun.
Cameron accused him of being weak. Would Brown join him in"urging Unite members to join them by crossing the picket line, going to work and getting the business moving."
Brown accused him of being partisan. Cameron said it was back to the 1970s. Hand-wringing from a weak PM while companies go down. Brown read from an old Daily Telegraph article and said the Cons were opportunistic. Cameron said the response was 'pathetic' (which Brown seemed to like judging by the smile on his face) .. and the question was batted back and forth. Brown didn't answer, preferring instead to practice his electioneering soundbites and accuse Cameron of not calling for management and unions to sit down and talk. Cameron accused Brown of acting in the union interest, not the national interest - he's also picked up Brown's nasty habit of stabbing the despatch box. Good performance from Cameron this week.
Clegg was also good again this week. He asked about CharlieWhelan and Lord Ashcroft - both exactly the same - "one is the Baron of the Unions and the other is the Baron of Belize..."
Brown replied that Labour and the LibDems had agreed changes to political party funding a year ago but the Conservatives rejected the deal. Clegg corrected Brown and accused him of re-writing history - a short but strong exchange worth watching. Ashcroft pays UK taxes on UK income so Brown's statement that he doesn't pay tax in Britain is very misleading - as it's designed to be.
Of the backbenchers Redwood had a short and sweet question about Royal Bank of Scotland: "Taxpayer-owned RBS has £700bn less today in loans and other assets than a year ago. Where has the £700bn gone?" I couldn't detect anything that could be construed as an answer from Brown.
Prosser ( Lab, Dover) "Does my Rt Hon Friend agree with me that to sell the Port of Dover would be the wrong thing. (I don't expect he'll agree with that)..."
Brown: "There'll be no forced privatisation under Labour ...but we must look for new options...and necessary investment for Dover's regeneration..."
Howarth (Con, Aldershot) raised the matter of "Charlie Whelan who was copied into all the smeargate emails and was, apparently, part of the 'forces of hell' of which the Chancellor spoke. Can the PM explain why he's now back in No.10 advising the PM or has his moral compass suffered the same fate as the telephone and other items beaten up in the bunker?"
Brown gave almost exactly the same answer he gave to a Conservative b/bencher last week. "He has a chance to ask a question about his constituency. He has a chance to speak up for the people of Britain. Once again the Conservatives are trying to turn an industrial relations dispute into a political football; they should be ashamed of themselves."
Winterton, ( Con, Macclesfield) asked about manufacturing in the area and the impact of regulation, particularly from Europe, which it needed "like a hole in the head."
Twigg (Lab, Halton) - public sector investment.
Robertson (SNP Westminster Leader) asked a question about Stephen Purcell which could barely be heard against the backdrop of Labour thugees disgracefully chanting, "Sean Connery". Doesn't it make you proud? Brown said he knew nothing about it - par for the course.
Gilroy (Lab, Plymouth Sutton) - marine renewables and low-carbon jobs for the future.
Steen (Con, Totness) (he of the very large house that resembles Balmoral) asked a long rambling question about a human trafficking campaign which made me lose the will to live.
Hoyle (Lab, Chorley) Jessica campaign to stop scamming of 'vulnerable people'.
Hughes (LibDem, Southwark N & Bermondsey) re index-linked pensions
Ruane (Lab, Vale of Clwd) - another angry display by an ignorant b@st@rd - interest rates.
Swinson (LibDem, Dunbartonshire East) re Tesco - too much power over communities?
Clapham (Lab, Barnsley) - asbestos-related diseases.
And that's about it for this week. I'm going for a well-deserved cup of tea and then I'll be back to post the videos.
The videos of the half hour can be seen at Calling England who kindly cross-posts this every week.