PMQs: Nick tackles Gordon on the 10p tax con

by Stephen Tall on April 23, 2008

How Gordon must have been dreading this session of Prime Minister’s Questions, after what has been one of his worst weeks since becoming Labour leader: condemned by all sides for his decision to disadvantage the poorest in society by abolishing the 10p tax rate.

In the circumstances, then, he didn’t perform too badly. There was, of course, no apology: simply a restatement of his commitment to help those in proverty. And it was clear Labour loyalists were under strict instructions from the whips to bellow their support for the embattled Mr Brown. As ever, David Cameron came up with a handful of smile-out-loud quips; but he landed no devastating blows.

Nick Clegg stood up to the customary barracking from all sides – this was his first PMQs’ appearance since that GQ interview – and deployed what is becoming a trademark question: asking the Prime Minister how it feels to be out-Torying the Tories. It’s a cheeky but effective way of creating equidistance between the Lib Dems and Labour/Tory parties. It does, of course, guarantee him an even rowdier reception. I suspect, though, his last question may still be echoing in Labour backbenchers’ minds: “if he cannot deliver on poverty, what on earth is the point of this increasingly pointless Prime Minister?” Quite.

You can watch the full encounter on the BBC site here. Below is the Hansard extract of Nick and Gordon’s exchange:

Mr. Clegg: I should like to extend sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of Senior Aircraftman Graham Livingstone, Senior Aircraftman Gary Thompson and Trooper Robert Pearson. I also want to express my sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of that exceptional parliamentarian, the unforgettable and formidable Gwyneth Dunwoody. As we know, she enjoyed enormous admiration on all sides of the House.
I thought that penalising the poor to reward the rich was the job of the Conservative party. The Prime Minister is deliberately making more than 5 million of the lowest earners in this country even worse off, so will he explain why he is doing the Tories’ job for them?

The Prime Minister: We have done more to take children and pensioners out of poverty than any Government in the history of this country since the second world war. Contrary to the advice of the Liberal party, which wanted us to abolish the new deal, we have helped more young people and long-term unemployed into work than any Government since 1945. If we had taken the Liberal party’s advice, there would have been high unemployment where there is now low unemployment.

Mr. Clegg: Labour Members are now in full cry, but where were they on Budget day? Why were they silent then? The truth is that, under the Prime Minister’s Government, income inequality is rising, working age poverty is up and now he is doubling the tax rate for the lowest earners. The Prime Minister used to be a man of principle but, if he cannot deliver on poverty, what on earth is the point of this increasingly pointless Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister: The point is to have economic growth in this country that gets more people into work. That could not happen under Liberal policies. The point of this Government is to take more people, including children and pensioners, out of poverty, and that is exactly what we are doing. I repeat: if we had followed the Liberal party’s policies, there would be fewer people in work, and more in poverty.