The standard script for Prime Minister’s Questions for the last three weeks is an argument over figures which Mr Cameron says are red and Mr Brown insists are black, so there.
It’s repetitive but Mr Brown enjoys reciting figures. He’s like one of these wartime Enigma code machines - one vast lot of numbers on government spending gets typed in then get deciphered by the Prime Minister as meaning something completely different.
He relies on his inbuilt combination of rotors, lamps, and circuitry to spell out "ten per cent Tory cuts" and hopes we will not break the code, using a device called a Comprehensive Spending Review, before a general election.The Tories have their best cryptologists on the case and in their frustration they’ve started calling the Prime Minister and his allies liars. They call this the search for truth. But yesterday Mr Brown yielded the code keys himself.
"Total spending will continue to rise," said Mr Brown, looking puffy and tired with Mr Cameron’s repeated questioning. "It will be a zero per cent rise in 2014."The human Enigma machine was showing the strain and the Tories hooted their derision. Ouch - that readout was meant to be 0.7% said his officials later but too late, it was a zero sum game for Mr Brown.
"The Prime Minister’s answer must be heard," said Speaker Bercow, with the authority of Harry Potter in front of a rowdy Hogwarts assembly. Please no, you could hear Labour benchers thinking. "As I explained last week..." said Mr Brown, the analogue Prime Minister, clattering back into life.
But this wasn’t a glitch in the machine, his heart wasn’t in it. When you phone someone recovering from an illness they say they feel fine but their voice quarrbles, betraying they are suffering the after effects of swine flu or some other lurge. That’s how Mr Brown has sounded of late.
"A Prime Minister in full retreat," is how he sounded to Mr Cameron. "He finally admits that he is going to cut capital spending."The Prime Minister’s turn again. He tried this new, nuanced line the cabinet worked out earlier in the week. It involves jabbing the dispatch box with your finger and roaring about Tory cuts - not that nuanced really.
When Mr Cameron said unemployment was "sadly going to go up" Mr Brown grasped for straws and said that must be official Tory policy. Labour would not tolerate rising unemployment. Try telling them that in Kilmarnock, where Johnny Walker went for a long walk with 700 jobs.
"This is one of the most feeble performances I have ever seen from this Prime Minister," said Mr Cameron. "There is only one person we want to add to the unemployment register, that is this Prime Minister." Officials ordered a train to be nationalised at it took Mr Brown away.
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