PMQs Verdict: Cameron has opened “the shit room door” and he can’t close it

16th January, 2013 1:52 pm

Today Ed Miliband have his strongest PMQs performance in months – and possibly ever. Unfortunately for David Cameron that coincided with surely his worst PMQs performance. Placed on the rack over Europe, he was mocked, criticised, battered and beaten by Miliband in what is now becoming the Labour leader’s standard style – that of a disappointed lecturer chiding a wayward pupil.

And today there was much to chide.

Did the Prime Minister still believe, as he did when he became Tory leader, that his party talks too much about Europe? As opening zingers go, it was a good ‘un. MPs on both sides of the chamber guffawed, as did the Prime Minister. Taken aback, he never recovered. Instead he chose to try and talk out the questions by waffling on incessantly until it became quite hard to remember what Miliband was asking about. Except each time another relentless question wave would lap against the banks of Cameron’s front bench – Europe, Europe, Europe.

And like in his shambolic Today Programme interview on Monday, Cameron still has no idea how to answer any of the questions on Europe with anything approaching confidence. He’s caught between his own views in Europe and the rampant Europhobia of so many in his party. He’s desperate to knock the EU into the long grass as an issue, but he keeps on missing the ball.

It was embarrassing to watch.

In The Thick of It, Tory MP Peter Mannion refers to the comments section of blogs as “the shit room door”. Except for the Tory Party, the real “shit room door” is Europe – and Cameron has seen it flung open, only to note to his utter dismay that he’s incapable of closing it again. Time and energy will be expelled in the effort, but it won’t do him much good. All of the nastiness will pour out anyway. It wasn’t supposed to be this way – Europe was supposed to be a settled issue. He had thrown the wolves some Eurosceptic meat by leaving the mainstream European People’s Party. It was never going to be enough for them though, and if he’s not careful, they will devour him.

In the end, his only response to a sound thrashing from Miliband today was to lie, claiming that Labour would take Britain into the Euro. In reality, his arch nemesis Ed Balls (with whom he is obsessed somewhat) helped keep Britain out of the single currency. But when all else failed today, when bluster, long winded responses and rhetoric failed to find their mark, Cameron reached for the facts on Britain’s relationship with Europe. And he was found wanting there too…

Value our free and unique service?

LabourList has more readers than ever before - but we need your support. Our dedicated coverage of Labour's policies and personalities, internal debates, selections and elections relies on donations from our readers.

If you can support LabourList’s unique and free service then please click here.

To report anything from the comment section, please e-mail [email protected]
  • I fear all you so called journalists have no idea that the public refuse to allow the EU to be kicked in the long grass. You continually believe its a Tory problem. I & many of my friends who voted Labour or Lib Dems in the past, see the EU as number 2 after the economy. Some see them both entwined. Get out of your bubbles and wake up and smell some roses.

    • If EU withdrawel is that important to people they can vote for a nationalist party in the general election as has happened in Scotland. UKIP hasn’t even established the poll numbers of Marianne Le Pen or Geert Wilders in Holland.
      Labour cannot be taken seriously in a general election by leaving a large plank of its economic, social, diplomatic and foreign policy to an emphemeral plebiscite.

      We would just look like clueless opportunists instead of a party fit to lead and govern.

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        On the other hand, if Labour appears to be not offering any form of democratic “reality check” on an issue that is real, and appears to be growing in consensus, it will not be taken very seriously either.

  • David Parker

    The slapstick provided satisfying soundbites on the BBC lunchtime news. But this shopuld nopt replace some serious thinking about the remote and undemocratic gravy train in Brussels which is what enables Tory hostility to Europe to resonate with large sections of the public.

  • PaulHalsall

    While I am glad we are not in the Euro right now, I hope we will be able to join it in the future.

    There is no fear about leaving, though. Whatever the backwoods Tories thing, business simply will not allow UK exit from the EU.

    In a way this is slightly sinister, but it represents the EEC founders’ key insight – that when Europe is so tied together economically that no business leaders want to lead, then the lure of autarkous states and war will become impossible.

    I am a historian, so I of course wish people would read more history. The past 60 years have been a miracle of peace and social progress across the EU. We must do anything to keep that peace going.

    • JoeDM

      Only a fool would want to join the failed Euro. Just look at the structural impact of the single currency on Greece, Italy, Ireland and Spain. It is effectively a permantently fixed exchange rate – all adjustment being forced on the internal economy with no balancing movements of currency market value resulting in unemployment rates of greater than 20%. And now we see that even Germany is being dragged into the mire – see the latest growth figures.

      EU exit is not just a Tory thing. Labour had a policy of exit from the EEC as it then was and many Labour supporters still hold that view.

      As for the EU providing 60 years of peace. What utter nonsense. The EC has only been in place since 1993. It was created by the Maastricht Treaty. Anyway the period of peace since 1945 was more the result of NATO and a million foriegn troops being based close to the Iron Curtain together with the advanced miltiary technology of the West, than anything else.

      • PaulHalsall

        None of your points are original.

        I agree there is a Euro problem at the moment, but it needs to be overcome by greater integration, By your logic the US, China, and India would all work better if they split their currencies. It’s probably true Michigan could grab some industry from Tennessee but that really helps no one. Unless you can explain why we should spit the Euro but not the dollar, I dimisss this argument. (What we need is to aid Greece and Spain). The addition of the sterling area to the Euro would make it stronger, although I accept this will not fly at this time.

        Some Labour figures opposed the EU. That went down great in the 1983 election.

        The EU is the successor of the EEC which goes back to 1957 and the ECSC in 1950. It has prevented war in western Europe, and *by economic integration* made war less likely. NATO and the Warsaw Pact probably provided some stability, but that was over by 1989. The major impact of NATO was probably the pump priming of the German economy.

        There are of course things wrong with the EU; and much more wrong with little Englanders. I think the EU has been the major cause of peace and must be supported.

        So, as you see, we disagree.

        • jaime taurosangastre candelas

          I think you are brave in stating that the EU and predecessor organisations prevented war in western Europe. In my opinion, what prevented war between countries in western Europe were the very recent memories of the world’s most murderous conflict, not some very small trading arrangements (relative to GDPs). It is only much more recently that inter-country trading has reached the current levels.

          I also think that what also prevented war was the presence of NATO forces, and for many years a perceived very credible threat from the Soviet Army. Perhaps Volkswagen might not like to receive a bill from NATO for the services over many years of providing security so that it could grow to become one of Europe’s richest companies in peace? Or if the business interests are aggregated upwards, the EU itself should receive NATO’s bill.

          Of course, you and I are entitled to hold different opinions and note that I do not declare you to be wrong, as finding the evidence to do so would be a large task. But it would seem from Google that the vast majority of opinion credits NATO with keeping the peace in Europe far more than the EU, so you have a considerable amount of work to do to persuade the majority of people.

          • European states, including Britain/England, have periodically been at war since the Treaty of Wesphalia. NATO was formed in 1949.

          • PaulHalsall

            They were periodically at wat long before that. The Treat of Westphalia of 1648 ended the Thirty Years which had destroyed Czechia almost completely, relegated Sweden to second rate status, laid Poland open for dismemberment, and killed a huge proportion of German-speaking areas; population.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            This is the case. Are you supporting my argument that NATO was the principal entity that prevented further war in western Europe in the period 1950 – 1990, and not the EU? It seems so.

          • Well sort of and NATO has more members now that it had from 1950-90.

            The question is whether Europe is more safe, democratic and prosperous now the former Warsaw pact countries are anchored into a pan European network of democratic states.
            Or was Europe a safer place under a balance of terror system in which most of Central and Southern Europe was under dictatorship?

            As the US divests from Europe, NATO is transforming itself into a system of collective European security.
            The next question will be whether the UK wants to be part of it or will it indulge in clownish Gaullist posturing that even the French have abandoned.

          • PeterBarnard

            It was more than a “very small trading arrangement,” Jaime. The Coal and Steel Community was built on what, in those days, were the base materials and the very sinews of war, and coal and steel, in France and Germany, would be subject to shared decisions made not by national governments acting as sovereign powers, but by a “high authority” that they agreed to create and to which they would surrender sovereignty. The symbolism of the ECSC was immense.

            Jean Monnet and Robert Schumann were great men with great vision, and Konrad Adenaeur welcomed their ideas with enthusiasm.

            In essence, you are correct that “recent memories … ” was the genesis but Monnet was the architect who translated human desires into something concrete. The Franks and the Prussians had been at each other’s throats for centuries, and to my mind the creation of that “something concrete” was an essential means of replacing ancient enmities with, so far, lasting peace.

            There were also “recent memories” following the great slaughter between 1914 and 1918, but the memories were insufficient to prevent more slaughter and destruction between 1939 and 1945 ….

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Hello Peter, and a Happy New Year to you. I thought you may have stopped posting.

            You make several interesting points, and perhaps the summation may be that this is no simple binary position, but complex and composed of many elements of varying intensity or dilution.

            The coal and steel community was indeed small – in comparison to GDPs – but your point about those materials being necessary for wars is a good one. Of course, over time, the breadth of this trade expanded away from steel and coal, and the proportion of GDP of this international trade increased, but to that I would say that it is not until 1992**** (see, but you have to “build” your own database query) that you see a sharp “uptick” in intra-EU trade becoming a significant element of individual countries’ GDP.

            I am less convinced of your enthusiasm for Monnet and Schumann. Yes, they may have had some great vision, but that vision for a United States of Europe was deliberately obscured as it would not have been popular. This sets the pattern for many years into the future, and indeed persists to this day in the behaviours of the Eurocrats such as van Rompuy and Barroso. It is my belief that if you passionately believe in something, for whatever no doubt noble reason, it is unethical to deliberately obscure it and to try to achieve it through the subterfuge. People should have the courage to test their vision against democratic opinion. And, I suspect, this tactic has “back-fired” on the Euro enthusiasts. People are now extremely sceptical.

            **** And I suspect another factor in this was the confluence in 1990 and onwards of there being no eastern threat (because the economic theory and practice of socialism fatally imploded, thankfully), new methods of rapid transit by rail and new motorways that gave a “turbo-boost” to intra-EU trade, and new markets in the east. So, my contention, and not one that Paul Halsall seems to share, is that NATO provided the conditions for a new western European relationship, some visionaries saw that this could be accomplished by trade, and one day result in a “U.S.E” to cement a new guarantee of peace, but that it was “slow going” until the military threat completely disappeared. But this is one for the economic historians and the data analysis.

          • AlanGiles

            I think it is fair to say that men like Edward Heath and Harold Wilson were genuinely horrified at the memories of the second world war and they felt (as did many of their colleagues in all other parties) that the original EEC/EU was one way to ensure stability in Europe. I would not doubt for a moment their sincerity, any more than I would doubt the probiity of those who are very pro or very anti today. There are arguments on both sides. I am agnostic where Europe is concerned. I will never forgive them for meddling with the Sound Copyright Act, which means that from this year a recording does not come into the public domain for 70 rather than 50 years – this really just to assist raddled fading old pop stars who were either stupid with their money in their salad days or want to be the richest old songster in the graveyard. Also, the EU accounts have not been signed off for years due to dubious accounting. There is a lot that is wrong with the EU, just as there is a lot wrong with politics full stop in 2013

            On the other hand, given our parlous state at the moment (Blockbuster joined HMV and Jessops in administration yesterday so we now have the prospect of a potential 10,000 people out of a job in the retail sector alone), news also this week that the construction industry expects to see a contraction of their sector for a decade, with the service industries contracting also, but with the car industry showing some signs of growth, I think it would be very ill-advised to dent business confidence at the present time, which the notion of a referendum in 4/5 years would do nothing to inspire confidence in investment.

            However, both Labour and Conservative parties have been toying with this referendum idea for some years and you can’t help feeling that Labour are rather miffed that the Conservatives stole their thunder, hence the lavatory langauge which prefaces Mark’s article.

            Perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea for both parties to fiddle with Pandora’s Box when they chose to.

          • PaulHalsall

            I would rather a referendum with a 6 month lead up now than 5/6 years of uncertainity.

          • PaulHalsall

            Jaime, I am a Byzantinist, but have taught courses on modern post war Europe at Rutgers. I was especially impressed by the the economic histories of Alan Milward (I have not read them all!!). His view about NATO, if I recall correctly, was not so much its military might. (Although that was not denied. Meanwhile, the Warsaw Pact always had higher numbers of tanks etc. It was the nukes that provided the equality). But Milward noticed that although there was great laudation for the Marshall Plan, Nato’s huge bases in Germany effectively pumped in huge amounts of money into the German economy which (along with the high level German education system) allowed it to recover. Furthermore, unlike the USSR which simply grabbed East German manufacturing plant, no levies were laid on West Germany. This made quickly Germany a ready trading partner for France which witness a huge move of population from farms to towns (for other reasons)). So I do not deny NATO a role, I just think it’s economic expenditure was a vital aspect.

          • Jeremy_Preece

            Logic Error

            Sorry Jaime but if as you say

            ” In my opinion, what prevented war between countries in western Europe were the very recent memories of the world’s most murderous conflict, not some very small trading arrangements (relative to GDPs)….”

            then it follows that the utter horror of WW1 would have had the same effect on preventing WW2.
            May I suggest therefore a massive logic hole in that argument.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            I don’t see such a massive logical hole. What was different between the end of World War One and the end of World War 2 are to me four distinct items:

            1. The first World War did not involve massive destruction of great regions and cities, and relatively few civilian deaths (either in acts of war or as a deliberate campaign of genocide). I do not seek to diminish the impact on Belgium or such French towns as Verdun, but compared with the almost country-wide destruction of Germany and many other European cities and towns in the second World War, and the loss of 6 million European citizens in the Holocaust, it was minor.

            2. The inter-war rise of the great totalitarian and racial purity doctrines, which over-powered rational diplomacy.

            3. The absence of any effective occupying force from 1920 allowing Germany to re-arm itself. In contrast to the end of the first World War, in which punitive “reparations” were imposed on Germany, contributing to the economic crises of the late 1920s, after the second World War the Allies helped Germany economically through Marshall Aid.

            4. The second World War may not have seemed as if it had ended at all, to Germans, given that in their perception, and probably the reality, for a few years the Soviets may have been able to continue their advance, or at least try to. Witness the Soviet domination of the eastern bloc, and crushing of various uprisings in the 1950s, and indeed even the Cuban missile crisis. I was not alive in those years, but I am told by those who remember those days that it was not until the early 1960s that they really felt the threat of imminent war had receded.

            So they are indeed different, in my belief, and therefore not a logical flaw in my contention.

          • Jeremy_Preece

            1. Jamie, my biggest issue with your response is that you under estimate the effect of WW1. A whole generation of young men were decimated and there was a huge wave of good intention that this was the war to end all wars, that this evil should never happen again.
            Without the structure of the EU there was nothing to make the peace happen.
            2. The lack of a strong European body made it easier for totalitarian regimes to rise. These thrived on the lack of international cooperation present at the end of WW1.
            3. Yes Germany was not occupeid but the sanctions against it were unreasonable in 1919 and this fuelled much of the very support for Hitler within Germany. Again, a functional European union would have done much to tackle the problems that prooved the oxygen of the very issues that won people over to radical and tyranical solutiond.
            4. Much of what you say about the Soviet Union and the Cuba crisis is true, but because they were outside of the Europe.
            When you have the polarisiation of US v USSR and you are European country, then it is in your interest to be part of a different block. The UK and most of the other countries in Europe were far too small to make it alone.

      • “Labour had a policy of exit from the EEC as it then was and many Labour supporters still hold that view.”

        Didn’t exactly go too well did it.

        Although in more recent history Labour voters in Hartlepool had a chance to turn their back on pro-EU Peter Mandelson and vote to follow Arthur Scargill outside the EU and into a protectionist planned economy. That didn’t go too well either.

    • Its a shame a few historians haven’t asked UKIP or the Tory Tea Party which European interstate system do they think worked better for Europe than the EU – how about the post-Napolenoic Congress system or the post world war I punishment of central Europe, maybe the triple alliance and entente power balance, or even the glory years of the cold war?

      As Churchill said about democracy, its the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

  • AlanGiles

    Sorry Mark but do we have to have scatalogical headlines?. “The Thick Of It” might be a popular comedy series (if you like that sort of thing), so was “Till Death Us Do Part” but I am sure you wouldn’t like us to use Alf Garnett langauge on here.

    • aracataca

      I knew you’d adopt the moral high ground on language use.
      What a joke coming from you. The most abusive man in the history of LL.
      Pass the hypocrisy sick bag.

    • PeterBarnard

      I agree, AG. Poor journalism.

      Happy New Year, by the way.

      • AlanGiles

        Thanks Peter. All the best to you, too.

        • AlanGiles

          I know it’s a free country but what made some idiot vote down my just sending good New Year wishes to a well respected LL poster?

          Whoever you are what a small minded little man you must be – and what a sad life you must lead.

  • reformist lickspittle

    You may think that, Mark – but RenTool informed us that Dave thrashed Ed 6-0!!


  • Good article. DC was embarassing – but fun to watch!

  • MarkHoulbrook

    Mark Ferguson cannot have been watching the same Prime Ministers questions. Most Labour voters and members agree with David Cameron. They do not wish to engage or integrate further into a federal Europe.
    Ed Miliband will struggle to grip the mood of the British People with the current shadow cabinet at the next election. There are neither appealing nor right for Labour. The British public…and it has been said are praying for an alternative social democratic movement to be born. There prayers may be answered

  • Monkey_Bach

    I’m surprised that Britain hasn’t petitioned America to become the 51st State of the Union. Blair would have been up for that. Cameron too by the look of him. Eeek.


LabourList Daily Email

Everything Labour. Every weekday morning

Share with your friends