Unparliamentary language dominates PMQs

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 1 February 2012 in Diary
It was all taunts and ticking off in the chamber today

We saw the prime minister quote Tony Blair, the Speaker praise David Cameron's vocabulary and a jab at the follicly-challenged shadow work and pensions secretary.

It was all rather unparliamentary today at PMQs.

Ed Miliband began his questioning by pushing Cameron to follow-through on legislation that triggers all banks to publish salaries over £1m. The law, published under a Labour government, had cross-party support.

But the prime minister ignored the bait, stating that banks are going to publish the pay of the top eight executives in each bank.

Miliband tutted: "Exactly what we would expect – no leadership on top pay. In case he hadn't heard the news, there are more than eight people earning over £1m in our banks... Another broken promise from this government."

So Cameron turned to his favourite attack line – the last Labour government. "It was the last Labour government that agreed an RBS bonus pool of £1.3m... He signed it off. Some might call it opposition, some might call it hypocrisy."

The Speaker didn't like this at all – to personally call an MP a hypocrite is considered unparliamentary. Bercow asked the prime minister to withdraw the statement.

"I am very happy to do that," replied Cameron.

Only, he wasn't really very happy and he got his revenge a few moments later...

"What was the Chancellor doing last week?" asked Miliband. "Going to Davos to lobby... on the top rate of income tax."

With a quick glance to the Speaker's chair, Cameron replied: "I don't know what the word is when you criticise someone for going to Davos, when you went to Davos yourself."

He smiled. "I think the word that Lord Mandelson used is 'struggling'."

It was a nice retort, and even Speaker Bercow seemed to acknowledge that. "The prime minister is very well educated and has a wide vocabulary," he said.

"Why does the prime minister think he has so comprehensively lost the medical profession's trust?" Miliband asked, changing the topic.

Cameron was on the back-foot over the health bill for a second week running. So he went on the attack instead. "Notice he doesn't want to raise the welfare cap today," he said.  "It is this government that is putting the money in and getting the results."

Miliband shook his head. "He knows in his hearts of hearts that this bill is a disaster. There were rumours last week that he was considering dropping the bill."

Cameron stood by the legislation (and his friend Andrew Lansley). "If you are trying to bring in transparency... you will always find that there will be opposition," he said.

He quoted Tony Blair on challenging public sector reform (also a favourite of Michael Gove, supposedly).  "If you think a change is right, go with it... He [Tony Blair] knew a thing or two about reform," said Cameron.

Even though Miliband had no more questions, Cameron wanted one more dig on the welfare reform bill.

"Just nod, are you with us or against us?" the PM asked. The Labour frontbench could only sit there.

"A great big vaccum," he added, as the camera panned to the straight faces on the opposition benches.

Liam Byrne was there, but Cameron must not have spotted him.

"Where is Baldemort? He's not at home today," shouted the PM.

As Harry Potter might say, charming.

Tags: David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg, Peter Mandelson, Prime Minister's Questions

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