PMQ report: David Cameron branded the 'dunce of Downing Street' over Royal Mail sell-off
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Wednesday 02 April 2014
David Cameron was branded the “dunce of Downing Street” today during fierce clashes with Ed Miliband over the controversial Royal Mail sell-off.
The Labour leader claimed taxpayers had lost £1.4 billion because Royal Mail shares had been undervalued by the Government. At Prime Minister’s Questions, he accused Mr Cameron of looking after his “friends in the City” through a gentleman’s agreement in which investors agreed to retain shares in the company, only to sell half of them to make a quick profit of hundreds of millions of pounds.
Mr Miliband described the Prime Minister as “not so much the Wolf of Wall Street, more the dunce of Downing Street.”
He told Mr Cameron: “The taxpayer... got £1.4 billion less for this valuable asset than it is worth today. A third of the shares were sold to just 16 city investors. And get this - there was a gentleman's agreement those city investors wouldn't sell the shares. What happened? Within weeks half of those shares had been sold and they made a killing worth hundreds of millions of pounds. In other words mates rates to your friends in the City."
Mr Cameron replied that the sell-off had left taxpayers £2 billion better off. He said he would take no lessons from Mr Miliband and the shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, labelling them “the Muppets” who advised Gordon Brown to sell off Britain’s gold reserves at a loss of £9 billion.
The Prime Minister said the previous Labour Government had wanted to privatise the Royal Mail but was “weak” to proceed in the face of trade union opposition. He claimed the questions were being raised only because Mr Miliband was "paid to by the trade unions".
Mr Cameron said the Labour manifesto had supported a sell-off – but his claim was immediately denied by Labour officials, who accused him of being “loose with the truth”.
Accusing Labour of being “anti-market, anti-competitive, and anti-business,” Mr Cameron said: “There are now 140,000 shareholders working for the Royal Mail, there are almost three quarters of a million members of the public with shares. These are signs for celebration in our country.”
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