PMQs: Nick tackles Gordon on home repossessions

by Stephen Tall on March 26, 2008

Both Nick Clegg and David Cameron tackled Gordon Brown on the consequences of the credit crunch for the economy. The Tory leader focused on the regulatory failures which allowed Northern Rock to become such a mess; the Lib Dem leader tackled the Prime Minister on home repossessions and the current ‘boom and bust’ in the housing market. Tick to Nick for picking the issue which matters most to the public.

The Prime Minister shaded his confrontation with Mr Cameron, looking pretty comfortable on his home turf of the economy, while unusually the Tory leader relied heavily on his notes for his over-long questions. Jonathan Calder at Liberal England is pretty scathing of Dave’s performance today:

… he is clearly not a master of the economics brief. His questions were wordy and Gordon Brown was armed with some good quotes to answer him. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Cameron’s case over the Financial Services Agency, you have to score the contest to Brown.

David Cameron’s second problem is that he is, er, David Cameron. The only time he threatened to engage public interest today was when he talked of the price of bread, milk and eggs. Yet if ever someone gave the impression of not knowing how much bread, milk and eggs cost, that person is David Cameron.

I always wondered, in a society where being “posh” is just about the worst sin out, if David Cameron’s background – and even more the fact that he looks like a public school boy – would count against him. This is one issue where it will.

Nick is looking more and more comfortable at PMQs as the weeks go by. He hasn’t tried to ‘do a Vince’, and skewer Gordon with a smart quip, but he is sticking doggedly to his task of interrogating the Prime Minister on the serious issues of the day with his two questions. Which, after all, is what PMQs is supposed to be for. Anyway, judge for yourselves… the Hansard text of their exchange is below:

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): Home repossession orders now stand at 100,000—the same as in 1990—and house prices are falling faster than they were even then. Does the Prime Minister still deny that the crisis facing British home owners today looks at least as bad as the Tory recession of the early 1990s?

The Prime Minister: I do not know when the Liberal party will ever learn. Interest rates were 18 per cent. at one point in the early 1990s; they are 5.25 per cent. today. The number of repossessions in the last year was 27,000; in the first two years of the 1990s, it was 200,000. We are dealing with a quite different situation and the reason is that we did not take the advice of the Liberal party, but pursued policies for economic stability.

Mr. Clegg: Is complacency the only thing that the right hon. Gentleman has to offer the thousands of British families who are frightened of losing their homes? Will he now instruct the Bank of England to take house prices into account when setting interest rates, to stop the boom and bust in the housing market? Will he also stop banks from repossessing homes at will and force them to explore all other options to keep British families in their homes?

The Prime Minister:
But the way to deal with the economic problems is to keep inflation low and to keep interest rates low, and that is exactly what we have done. Inflation is lower than in the rest of Europe and lower than in America. That is why interest rates have managed to come down twice in the past few months, whereas that has not been possible in the euro area. I tell the right hon. Gentleman this: we take seriously our responsibility to home owners in this country. That is why there are 1.5 million more home owners now than there were in 1997, why interest rates are on average half what they were in the Conservative years and why mortgage rates are lower than they were on average in those 18 years. We will continue to ensure that inflation and interest rates are low, to the benefit of home owners. One way we will do that is by not taking the advice of the Liberal party.