PMQs: Nick tackles Gordon on the 10p tax-con

by Stephen Tall on May 7, 2008

If the Prime Minister was looking for some respite in the Commons today – after last week’s drubbing by the electorate – his hopes were dashed. It’s just one damned thing after another for poor Gordon: the 10p tax fiasco (of which more later), post office closures, 42-day detention without trial, and the Scottish Labour leader going off-piste about a Scottish independence referendum.

The Tory leader David Cameron chose to range widely, attempting to give a sense of Labour’s paralysis. It would have been effective,too – but Dave has a tiresome habit of taking it too far, and tarnishing his rhetoric. Take today’s cheap closing jibe:

This is the Prime Minister who went on “American Idol” with more make-up on than Barbara Cartland; this is the Prime Minister who sits in No. 10 Downing street … waiting for Shakira to call and waiting for George Clooney to come to tea. I have got a bit of advice for him: why does he not give up the PR and start being a PM?

Caustic stuff, and good for rallying the troops. But it’s not exactly Prime Ministerial. The Tory leader is keen to give the impression that he’s not complacent after last Thursday’s results. He’d be well-advised to drop some of the smart-arse quips, and start behaving like a PM-to-be.

Another good PMQs’ performance from Nick Clegg, focusing on the continuing rumblings of discontent of the Labour party’s perverse decision to tax the low-paid more, by doubling the 10p tax rate. The Lib Dems were the first party to identify the issue, back in March 2007, and Nick is right to keep campaigning on it. As he told the Prime Minister today,

This is a matter of principles. Remember those?

You can watch today’s PMQs encounter over at BBC.co.uk; or you can read the Hansard transcript below:

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): May I add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of Trooper Ratu Babakobau? Also, I am sure that I speak on behalf of all Members of the House when I extend our expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of Ray Michie, the former Member for Argyll and Bute, who sadly passed away just last night.

Does the Prime Minister understand the threat from the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) when he said that the doubling of the 10p tax rate will

“resonate until there is clarity”?

When will we get concrete proposals to compensate all those who have been hit?

The Prime Minister: I add to the condolences that the right hon. Gentleman has sent to the family of Ray Michie, who was a very distinguished Member of this House.

The right hon. Gentleman’s party is not proposing the restoration of the 10p rate—not at all. Let me also say that the Chancellor has put his letter to the Treasury Committee and outlined the steps that he is taking to deal with the two groups that were missed out—the 60 to 64-year-olds and those people on low incomes who cannot claim the working tax credit—and he will put forward his proposals in due course. I would have thought that the Liberal party would be prepared to wait until he puts his proposals.

Mr. Clegg: That is not good enough. This is a matter of principles. Remember those? I think that everybody now knows that when it comes to helping the most needy, the Prime Minister has got no principles and the Tories have got no policies. Will he now provide an absolute guarantee that those who have lost out will be compensated in full, backdated to the beginning of April, and will not have to jump through hoops to claim what is rightfully theirs?

The Prime Minister: The Chancellor will put his proposals. The Liberal party opposed the new deal, which has helped 2 million people get into work. The Liberal party wanted a local minimum wage, not a national minimum wage, and the Liberal party opposed our child tax credit and our child trust fund. That is not a record that it should be proud of.