Prime Minister’s Questions is always entertaining to watch. It tends not to add substance to debates, but it’s entertaining and does show us how well party leaders act under pressure and think on their feet. As well as that, the occasional slips of the tongue can enlighten us as to what they’re really thinking and something of their characters. But high-minded intellectual debate it most certainly is not.
Today’s performance – and, let’s not kid ourselves, they are performing to a higher or lesser degree – was fairly run-of-the-mill. This close to an election being called, I thought the Tories would be a lot more partisan, but David Cameron decided to go on defence spending. Probably a sensible position to take from a strategic point of view, after the PM’s evidence to Chilcot and the coroner’s verdict into deaths of soldiers using snatch Land Rovers. It was routine batting back and forth until Cameron quoted former generals to make his argument. At this point, Labour backbencher Ronnie Campbell shouted the fact that most of these generals were Tories.
Now, this is – in general, if you pardon the pun – a fact. Most officers of the British general staff tend to be Tories. Witness, for example, Cameron announcing Major General Sir Richard Dannatt would be a Tory adviser and would be promoted to the Lords under a Cameron government only a few months ago. But Dave chose this insult to the soldiers’ “patriotism” to go positively apoplectic with rage. Whether this rage was genuine or otherwise is open to debate. I’ve watched it a couple of times now and am in two minds. However, the topic he became enraged about leads me to think that this was mock-anger. I mean why is being called a Tory a slur on your patriotism? Especially after his Spring forum speech. And also as exactly the same thing was said last week with no reaction from him at all. Very odd. Unless, of course, he was looking for something to get angry about.
What made it worse for DC was that Gordon Brown just got calmer and more statesmanlike in his responses as Cam got redder. I mean how many times have you ever heard Brown asking for a consensus? An actual consensus! Gordon Brown, king of the dividing line? This just incensed Cameron further and he came back with
‘his MPs have questioned the integrity of people who are essays in bravery. He must dissociate himself from those disgraceful remarks.’
Which, of course, gave Brown the opening to respond in kind.
‘I will not take lectures in integrity from a man who won’t answer one question about Lord Ashcroft.’
Brown then went on – calmly once again – to remind the House that defense spending under the Tories had fallen by a third. Cameron should have moved on. Everyone could see that. Everyone, that is, except him. Instead of ignoring this and moving on, Cameron made another huge error by giving his reason for that 30% spending cut. It was, according to Cameron, because.
..the Tories’ had won the Cold War.
Did he say that? Did he? Oh yes he did. No, really. That’s what he claimed. That his party had won the Cold War. Well, everyone present burst out laughing at this rather stupid statement. Which Cameron, now in mild panic, followed up with
‘And we all know who was wearing the CND badges.’
Well, not Gordon Brown for a start. Brown is one of the few 80s Labour MPs who had nothing to do with CND or unilateral disarmament. Cameron had obviously set up this CND line as his 10 second soundbite for the news well in advance, with the Cold War bit as a build up to it , but had miscalculated the reaction to his silly claim. Brown was by now enjoying this and took the opportunity to remind the viewing voters of Cameron’s novice status when he responded that Cameron
‘was still at school at the time.’
Cue yet more laughter in the chamber at Cameron’s expense. This was a bad performance for Cameron. Even the Spectator’s normally supportive Coffee House blog have said
‘Having seen Cameron today I wouldn’t trust him with a box of fireworks let alone the nuclear button.’
I think many people will agree.