Today wasn’t a good day for David Cameron. He was forced to answer allegations that his Welfare Minister Lord Freud had suggested disabled people shouldn’t be paid the minimum wage. A throaty and obviously unwell Miliband demanded the Prime Minister answer the charge that Freud had suggested a figure of £2 an hour for some disabled people.
Miliband started by conceding that he had a sore throat but that he wouldn’t have missed this PMQs for the world. One can only assume that he had wanted the maximum opportunity to gloat as this was the first clash since the defections to UKIP of two Conservative MPs.
But this was also the first PMQs since Miliband’s disastrous party conference speech in which he tried to memorise his lines, only to forget the section on the national deficit. This enabled Cameron to make a moderately amusing gag about the Labour leader forgetting his doctor’s appointment.
Miliband responded by pointing out that whilst he had lost a few paragraphs of his speech, the Prime Minister had lost a few MPs. Labour backbenchers loved it, and this gave Miliband the momentum to demand clarification on how Cameron would fund his latest tax cut plan. Cameron responded by crowing about his long term economic plan and how the deficit was down a third.
There was then a bit of a knock about on the issue of tax credits, which Miliband does not want to see reformed and Cameron believes should be largely replaced by a tax cut. Then it was onto the thorny issue of Lord Freud and his views on disability.
Miliband pointed out that the Tory Peer had said: “Now, there is a small… there is a group, and I know exactly who you mean, where actually as you say they’re not worth the full wage and actually I’m going to go and think about that particular issue, whether there is something we can do nationally, and without distorting the whole thing, which actually if someone wants to work for £2 an hour, and it’s working can we actually … ”
Cameron threw in a bit of righteous indignation by getting angry about being lectured on disability, an implied reference to his son’s severe multiple disabilities that led to his death. However, all the bluster in the world couldn’t take away from the fact a minister who ought to be helping the disabled was suggesting they get paid one third of other low paid workers.
This still wasn’t a sparkling performance by Miliband, and the bad throat did not help, but he’s probably ended Freud’s political career, something he’ll be pleased about.
Backbench contributions from Labour almost all droned on about the National Health Service, though there was also a call from one MP to honour the British beheading victim Alan Henning.
Jenny Chapman (Lab, Darlington) wanted the world to know a group of mums from her constituency marched 300 miles because they were so angry about cuts to the NHS. Emma Lewell-Buck (Lab, South Shields) was unhappy that her local trust had cut services. Kerry McCarthy (Lab, Bristol East) had done a survey of GPs.
This was also the day of Douglas Carswell’s (UKIP, Clacton) first contribution as a UKIP MP, it wasn’t so much what he ask but the way he said it. His question about potential recall of MPs was predicated with a reference to his “Honourable Friend the Member for Richmond Park”. The greeting is reserved for members of the same political party, suggesting that Zac Goldsmith might be yet another defector.
It wasn’t a wholly successfully appearance for Carswell as Stewart Jackson (Con, Peterborough) read out a quote from him about how only the Conservatives would give the public a referendum on Europe. The Prime Minister poured scorn without mentioning the UKIP MP by name.
Overall: Cameron: 0, Miliband: 1, Bercow: 1 (he gets a point for calling Carswell)