'Dunce v Muppets' at Prime Minister's Questions

Ed Miliband and David Cameron clash over the Royal Mail sale

Related Stories

David Cameron and Ed Miliband have been hurling insults at each other in a return of the "Punch and Judy" politics both men said they wanted to abolish.

In exchanges on the price of Royal Mail shares, Mr Miliband said the PM was "not so much the 'Wolf of Wall Street' as the 'dunce of Downing Street'".

The PM said he would not take lectures from the Labour leader and Ed Balls.

He branded the pair "the two Muppets" who had advised former PM Gordon Brown on the sale of the UK's gold.

Analysis

Just a few weeks ago, I interviewed Ed Miliband for Radio 4.

He told me PMQs "subtracts from the reputation of politics" and you can "disagree without being disagreeable".

He was responding to the Speaker, John Bercow, who said he wanted to cut out the "yobbery and public school twittishness" of the weekly Commons shouting match.

David Cameron once said he wanted to "end Punch and Judy politics" too -- although later acknowledged he'd failed.

So that is the back story to today's comic barbs.

Ed Miliband reckoned David Cameron was the "dunce of Downing Street."

Mr Cameron said Mr Miliband and Ed Balls were "Muppets."

So how's it going, making PMQs more thoughtful and perhaps sedate?

"PMQs is a unique parliamentary occasion," observed a Downing Street spokesman afterwards.

Asked later if the word "Muppets" was the kind of language the prime minister should be using in Parliament, his spokesman said: "PMQs is a unique parliamentary occasion. It has been the way it has been for many years."

The exchanges came in one of most heated Prime Minister's Questions for some time, with Mr Miliband particularly fired up about the part-privatisation of Royal Mail, saying shares had been sold off far too cheaply.

'Mate's rates'

The National Audit Office has said the shares were priced too cheaply and the taxpayers did not get "value for money".

The Labour leader challenged Mr Cameron to name today's share price compared with the initial sale offering of 330p and condemned the government for getting a bad deal.

He claimed the shares had been "flogged off" at "mate's rates" to Mr Cameron's "friends in the City".

He claimed there was a "gentleman's agreement" among long-term investors that they would not sell their shares but, he added: "Half of them were sold and hundreds of millions of pounds were made."

Mr Cameron hit back at the Labour leader, saying: "I will take a lecture from almost anyone in the country about the sale of Royal Mail, but not from the two Muppets who advised the last chancellor on selling the gold.

"There they sit, there they sit, not a word of apology for £9bn wasted. The Royal Mail privatisation has got £2bn for the taxpayer."

The prime minister claimed that plans to sell off Royal Mail were in Labour's 2010 general election manifesto.

David Cameron and Ed Miliband at PMQs

It later transpired that the pledge was not in Labour's manifesto, which was written by Ed Miliband.

Challenged about this, a Number 10 source said: "The year before, in 2009, Lord Mandelson unveiled plans to sell 30% of the Royal Mail."

Gordon Brown - who employed Ed Miliband and Ed Balls as advisers during his years as chancellor - is often accused by opponents of selling off Britain's gold reserves far too cheaply.

He decided to dispose of almost 400 tonnes of gold between 1999 and 2002 - the majority of Britain's reserves - for between $256 and $296 an ounce, only to watch it soar up to $1,615 per ounce.

Commons speaker John Bercow vowed recently to end the "yobbery and public school twittishness" at Prime Minister's Questions.

Mr Miliband was said to have sought to bring in a less confrontational PMQs style earlier this year and David Cameron said on his arrival as Conservative leader in 2005 that he wanted to end "Punch and Judy" politics.

Despite their efforts the sessions have continued to revert to form, with insults being exchanged and a bear pit atmosphere. It continues to be the single most watched political event of the week.

Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna has written to Vince Cable to ask for more clarity on the reported "gentleman's agreement" with 16 priority investors not to sell-off the shares for a quick profit.

He asked the business secretary to publish all correspondence between the government and the investors and how many shares in Royal Mail they still hold.

More on This Story

Related Stories

More UK Politics stories

RSS

Politics Live

  1.  
    08:49: Fracking concerns BBC News Channel

    Joan Walley, chairwoman of the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, has told the BBC that they want the move to shale gas to be put on hold because of environmental and safety concerns. You can read more about their report here.

    Joan Walley
     
  2.  
    @robinbrant Robin Brant, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: It's back in action, up and running, primed for daily updates. The @BBCPolitics elex countdownerer @ChrisMasonBBC

    White board
     
  3.  
    Imelda Flattery BBC News

    tweets: Alexis Tsipras expected to speak to gathered journalists shortly. #Greece

    Media scrum
     
  4.  
    08:29: Greek election fallout

    More from the BBC's interview with Yanis Varoufakis, an economist who stood for Greece's Syriza party in the elections. He says a Greek exit from the eurozone is "not on the cards", and the party is not going to go to Brussels "in a confrontational style".

     
  5.  
    BBC Radio 4 Today

    tweets: 'We will take a plan to the #eurozone to minimise this Greek debacle' #Syriza candidate Yanis Varoufakis #R4today

     
  6.  
    08:22: New role for Lord Smith
    Lord Smith

    Lord Smith of Kelvin is to take on another high-profile role, after agreeing to chair of one of Scotland's largest regeneration projects. Lord Smith, who chaired the Smith Commission on Scottish devolution, will lead Clyde Gateway on delivering the post-2014 Commonwealth Games legacy. The work focuses on regenerating Glasgow's east end. Lord Smith was chairman of the Commonwealth Games organising committee and has a number of other top roles. They include chairing Forth Ports and the Green Investment Bank. He will take up his new unpaid role as chairman of Clyde Gateway next month

     
  7.  
    08:18: Hoax call to No 10 Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    No 10 stress the PM's phone number was not given out to the hoaxer. However he was put through to the PM by the switchboard.

     
  8.  
    @BBCGen2015 BBC Generation 2015

    tweets: DEADLINE: Just 1 week for 18-24s to sign up to @BBCGen2015 to take part in BBC Election progs

     
  9.  
    @bbcnickrobinson Nick Robinson, BBC Political Editor

    tweets: The Speaker wants you to be able to join in MPs debates & vote online. Good idea? Join in my Q&A on F'book at 1.30 (read more about the online voting plans)

     
  10.  
    08:10: 100 constituencies
    Working men's club

    This will help you put a face to some of the voices in Matthew Price's pre-election package from a working men's club in Tilbury, Thurrock (see 0755). Clearly this was pre-recorded, they weren't drinking on Monday morning.

     
  11.  
    08:05: Hoax call to No 10 BBC Radio 5 live

    The Surveillance Camera Commissioner for England and Wales Tony Porter has told 5 Live Breakfast that the hoax calls to GCHQ and Downing Street were a "concern" and it "doesn't reassure the public and the community". He also said "there'll be a lot of work to eradicate [it]".

     
  12.  
    Andy Burnham Shadow health secretary

    tweets: Warning from @nhsconfed & @LGAcomms about crisis in NHS & care. Labour's 10 year-plan, out tomorrow, offers solution> http://bit.ly/1wxprWw

     
  13.  
    @RobbieGibb

    tweets: On today's #bbcdp - @DouglasCarswell (UKIP), @spelmanc (Con), Andy Slaughter (Lab) and @MartinChelt (Lib Dem)

     
  14.  
    07:55: 100 constituencies BBC Radio 4 Today

    The BBC's Matthew Price has been at a working men's club in Tilbury, Thurrock as part of the Today programme's tour of 100 constituencies in the run-up to the general election. One voter says the Tories have "sold England off, never vote for them" but won't vote UKIP as they are too far "anti-immigration". At a nearby slimming club, one woman says she is undecided and may not vote for the party her family has traditionally supported: "You've got so many different parties, at the end of the day you have to weigh up what is right for you".

     
  15.  
    07:51: Greece dominates papers
    Telegraph/Times front pages

    Many of today's newspapers concentrate on the fallout from the dramatic general election in Greece - won by the left-wing anti-austerity Syriza party. The BBC's paper review gives a roundup of reports.

     
  16.  
    07:44: Hoax caller to No 10 Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    Incredible as it may seem the prankster managed to obtain mobile numbers for both the head of the GCHQ surveillance centre and the prime minister by bluffing his way past both sets of switchboards. Having been put through to the GCHQ boss Robert Hannigan, he then rang the Sun newspaper to boast of his exploits. According to The Sun he told them "he'd made monkeys" out of GCHQ despite being high on drink and drugs. Not satisfied with all that, the hoaxer then succeeded in getting put through to the prime minister. No 10 say Mr Cameron realised "within a matter of seconds" it was a hoax call and put the phone down. They also say no sensitive information was disclosed - and that they have no reason to believe the caller was anything other than a prankster. Nevertheless in an era of heightened terror alert and anxious political debate over increased surveillance - it would suggest simple human error can be a greater vulnerability.

     
  17.  
    07:42: Greek election fallout

    More from Chancellor George Osborne on the Greek election result: "Ultimately if you take at face value all the things that the new Greek government has promised - including big increases in public expenditure - you know, I think that is going to be very difficult to deliver, and incompatible with what the Eurozone currently demands of its members. But I hope that both sides now act responsibly."

     
  18.  
    @bbcNormanS Norman Smith, BBC assistant political editor

    tweets: Syriza elex victory in Greece is "just the latest chapter in eurozone crisis " - George Osborne @bbcr4today

     
  19.  
    07:24: George Osborne interview BBC Radio 4 Today

    Chancellor George Osborne is quizzed about the recent defection of UKIP MEP Amjad Bashir to the Conservatives. Mr Bashir was suspended by UKIP over various allegations - all of which he denies - shortly before announcing his defection on Saturday.

    Asked about the MEP's past, Mr Osborne told the BBC: "I am certainly not aware of something that I should be worried about."

     
  20.  
    07:16: Greek election fallout

    The landslide Syriza victory in the Greek elections means there are some tough eurozone negotiations on the horizon. The Open Europe blog breaks down what could happen next, and what all of this means for Greece, the eurozone and the EU.

     
  21.  
    07:11: Fracking warning
    A shale gas test well

    An influential committee of MPs has called for a moratorium on fracking on the grounds that it could derail efforts to tackle climate change. The government's drive for shale gas should be put on hold because it would lead to more reliance on fossil fuels, the Environmental Audit Committee said.

     
  22.  
    07:07: 100 constituencies BBC Radio 4 Today

    In what's shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable elections ever, where the prospects of smaller parties and local results could be more crucial than ever in determining who governs Britain, Today will be visiting 100 different constituencies between now and polling day. Recent opinion polls suggest the key barometer seat of Thurrock is now a three way marginal between the Tories, Labour and UKIP. Our correspondent Matthew Price went to hear how voters feel about the pending election.

     
  23.  
    07:05: Election battlegrounds
    election map

    We may not know who will win the next general election but we do know which parts of the country will determine the fates of the political parties. Have a look at the BBC's guide to political battlegrounds of the 2015 general election.

     
  24.  
    06:55: Hoax caller

    Other news this morning includes a security review being carried out by Downing Street after a hoax call to Prime Minister David Cameron. Number 10 said the caller claimed to be Robert Hannigan, director of government monitoring agency GCHQ. Mr Cameron ended the call when it became clear it was a hoax and no sensitive information was disclosed.

    Despite this there has bee plenty of mischief-making online at Mr Cameron's expense.

    Tweet
     
  25.  
    06:43: Greek election fallout
    Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras

    There's still more than three months to go until the UK election, but the impact of the Greek elections is being felt across Europe, after the success of the anti-austerity Syriza party. Its leader has pledged to renegotiate the country's massive international bailout.

     
  26.  
    06:42: 'Tough to predict' David Cowling Editor, BBC Political Research Unit
    Nigel Farage

    "With its first ever prime ministerial debates, new constituency boundaries and opinion polls suggesting the novelty of three evenly-matched Westminster parties, the 2010 general election was difficult to predict. However, the 2015 election looks set to present us with an even bigger headache." The BBC's David Cowling considers why factors such as the rise of Nigel Farage's UK Independence Party make this general election very difficult to call.

     
  27.  
    06:37: 100 constituencies

    To give a flavour of the contest ahead, the Today programme will be hearing from 100 different constituencies between now and polling day. The aim is to try and give a picture of how voters around the UK feel about some of the big issues at stake. They kick off today in Thurrock in Essex.

     
  28.  
    06:26: On the agenda

    What's coming up today? Speaker John Bercow has been talking to BBC Political editor Nick Robinson about the Digital Democracy Commission and its proposals, which include allowing people to vote online in the 2020 general election. You can read the full story and the full interview will be broadcast as part of Can Democracy Work? series on Tuesday on BBC Radio 4 at 09:00 GMT.

     
  29.  
    06:24: Election countdown

    We've got a busy day ahead of us - all the parties are stepping up their campaigning and attempting to get on the front foot ahead of the General Election on 7 May. There're just 101 days to go now... and to mark the occasion the BBC News Channel have some special features planned for the day about the issues which are likely to have an impact at the election.

     
  30.  
    06:20: Good morning Alex Hunt Politics editor, BBC News Online

    Hello and welcome to the first day of our rolling coverage of all things political as it happens. We'll be bringing you all the breaking news, the latest tips from the BBC's political team plus the key reaction and analysis from the BBC's unmatched range of programmes. We'll start each morning with BBC Radio 4's Today programme and Breakfast, continue through the day with the best of the BBC News Channel, Daily Politics, The World at One/PM right through to Newsnight and Today in Parliament.

     

Features

Elsewhere on the BBC

Programmes

  • Water droplets bouncing off a laser-etched water repellent metal surfaceClick Watch

    The laser-etched metal surfaces that repel water, plus other technology news

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.