PMQs - The Verdict
You can bet there were many places Gordon Brown would rather be on his 57th birthday than in the chamber for prime minister's questions. There was little evidence of Brown letting his hair down - apart from cracking a joke about asking the prime minister of China about Wigan - but at least the leader of the Opposition took the time to wish him many happy returns. And, reflecting on some of the PM's disastrous early performances at the despatch box at noon on a Wednesday, it is hard not to conclude that he has got a lot better at the weekly joust.
Northern Rock And DNA Dominate PMQs
Given the Speaker's refusal to allow a Conservative request for a statement, it was perhaps unsurprising that David Cameron chose his opening salvo to be on the Crown Prosecution Service. The Government stands accused of inaction following a request from Dutch police to compare thousands of DNA profiles against the UK's own database - and possibly catch some serious criminals in the process.
Point-by-point: Question time
The main points from prime minister's questions on Wednesday, 20 February, from 1200 GMT:
Prime Minister Gordon Brown sent his condolences to the family of Corporal Damian Lawrence who was killed in Afghanistan. Answering a question from Labour MP Ann Begg, Mr Brown said all of the money lent to Northern Rock would be paid back. He said the government would only return the bank to private ownership when it could get the "best deal" for taxpayers.The Verdict
I am pushed for time today, so going to have to make it short and, hopefully, sweet...
The opening Labour planted spoiler question was there as is becoming the new Brown tactic – Brown got a dolly of a question on Northern Rock.
Cameron wisely steered clear of Northern Rock – wisely because Brown has nearly as much ammo to throw at the Tories on this one as they do at him. Also Brown would have been expecting it and easily prepared. Instead Cameron went for the “missing” Netherlands data disc, containing DNA profiles from crime scenes, sent to the Crown Prosecution Service [CPS] in January last year, to be checked against the UK's database. Cameron won this encounter, but only used three questions up...
Clegg then stepped up, delivered a couple of good’uns: one on Northern Rock where he managed to discredit the government and Tories and one on energy prices. Good show from Clegg.
Brown gave a cheap shot about the Tories not asking about Northern Rock – which was a bit dumb considering Cameron had only asked three questions and it obvious what his next three would be about! And they were. Only Cameron decided to talk about Northern Rock’s Freedom of Information status.
I am not really sure where Cameron was going with this. At first I thought that maybe he knew something explosive and exciting and that he would drop the bombshell on Brown with the damage being so bad the Prime Minister would have had little opportunity but to resign there and then. Instead he had no insider information, no scandal, nothing at all. Just a bit sensationalist conspiracy theory about the government trying cover something up (though Dave had no idea what). It could have worked out, but to have a convincing conspiracy theory he should have at least had something up his sleeve about what Brown was trying to cover up.
Cameron, at this point, had blown it. Brown was batting away Cameron’s full tosses like Don Bradman might have seen my pathetic attempts at bowling had the extremely unlikely chance of him facing up to me on at the crease ever happened. Brown was in full throw and Cameron was going nowhere.
The real problem with the Northern Rock issue for the Tories is that ecomonics is Brown’s specialist subject – in fact I think it is his only subject. While they should be making good capital out of all this, Cameron is no match for Brown in a one on one dual.
It was a PMQs of two halves today, but with Brown finishing far the stronger I have to give him the points. In Cameron's defense, however, he will probably get in to the evening news with his questions on the DNA discs - so maybe I am being harsh but...