Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Parting shots leave no room for seasonal goodwill


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Indy Politics

Is Douglas Carswell having a full-on identity crisis? In an all too rare Commons appearance – two months after being carried shoulder-high from his Clacton by-election triumph as Ukips’s first MP – he asked David Cameron today about the rapidly rising “cost added to energy bills and taxes by green targets”, concluding: “Does My Honourable Friend think that is fair?”

No, Douglas! First, the Prime Minister is “Right Honourable”. But, more importantly, he is no longer your “friend”. The term describes those sitting on the same side of the chamber, which you, squatting uneasily among the Labour awkward squad, now definitely are not – as Cameron made brutally clear in his answer about how renewable energy investment was providing lots of jobs, and adding, to show he was not going to make the same mistake: “I am not sure what The Honourable Gentleman’s view is.”

It’s possible, of course, that a wistful-looking Carswell was merely hoping to inject some Christmas spirit into the last PMQs of 2014, which seemed eerily like the opening of a general election campaign still supposedly months away.

Fortified by the Office of Budget Responsibility’s (OBR) estimate that the Chancellor’s planned cuts will bring public spending as a share of national income to its lowest level for 80 years, Ed Miliband was on the front foot. “He wants to go back to the 1930s,” the Labour leader charged three times.

Cameron’s riposte was that the OBR had also predicted that “day-to-day spending” on public services “would be at its lowest level since 2002-3 [when Labour was in office] in real terms.” This fulfilled the first requirement of any major electoral counter-argument, namely to sew confusion among the voters.

Miliband then challenged him to rule out raising VAT (which hits the poor hardest). “We do not need to raise taxes because we have a plan for efficiencies in spending,” the PM said airily. And perhaps less than 100 per cent convincingly.

All this “back to the Thirties” stuff, meanwhile, is understandably irritating Cameron, who accused Labour of “basing their entire economic policy on some throwaway remark on the BBC at about 10 past six on a Monday morning”.

But hang on. If that remark – evoking the poverty-stricken era of Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier – was such a throwaway when no one was listening, why did an infuriated Osborne put it on the map by denouncing it two hours later?

The exchanges concluded with traditional end of term insults. Miliband: “He brought a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘conviction politician’ when Andy Coulson resigned.” Cameron: “They cannot talk about their leader, because he is a complete waste of space. No wonder for Labour MPs this year it is a silent night.”

So, all round seasonal bonhomie, laced with savagery. Like many a family Christmas, in fact.