David Cameron and Ed Miliband faced off for the first PMQs of 2012 on Wednesday, sparking a war of words between Labour and the Tories over rising train fares.
Cameron claims that Labour allowed Train Operating Companies to vary the fares, only imposing a cap on them in 2010 because it was an election year. Ed Miliband accused the PM of failing to address the issue - that fares had rocketed by record amounts earlier this month and Cameron hadn't done anything to stop it.
The PM insisted the mechanism which allowed railway firms to put the fares up by so much was a Labour invention. But he also said a lot of the extra money from tickets would be re-invested into the railways - including the controversial High Speed Two project approved yesterday yesterday.
A document from the department of transport indicates that Labour did bring in a reduction in fares - but only from 2010-11.
However Labour's Andrew Adonis said in a statement that Ed Miliband was right, adding: “The ending of the flexibility was strongly opposed by the train companies, but they complied and it was highly popular with passengers. It was my firm intention to continue the policy for subsequent years, and I was mystified when Philip Hammond, my successor, reinstated the fares flexibility. The only people who supported this change were the train companies."
The Commons is back in business after a long Christmas recess, and a difficult start to the year for the Labour leader.
On Tuesday, Miliband said a future Labour government would accept some cuts and have to make "tough decisions" to pay down the deficit, in what was billed as a fightback speech.
The new year's first battle over the despatch box between the two leaders comes almost a month after Miliband had a disastrous final PMQs of 2011. This meant he was always coming into today's PMQs at a disadvantage, and in fact Cameron was quite merciful, not mentioning any of the twitter gaffes or Miliband's mangling in the press this morning after his detail-light speech on the economy yesterday.
Overall we felt that David Cameron just about edged it over Ed Miliband, who improved as the questions progressed and looked statesmanlike, if boring, during the questions about the timing of the Scottish independence referendum, upon which Labour and the Tories almost entirely agree.
Still, encouraging that we might just have some humdinger close-run PMQs some day.
Here's how it played out in detail.
Strange PMQs this week because of Scotland sort of hovering over everything and uniting Labour and Tories.
Given the flack he's taken it was inevitable Ed Miliband would get some stick and patronising depreciation from Cameron, and it didn't help that the Labour leader was nasal this week.
The train fares issue itself will be fact checked to death this afternoon. But on Ed Miliband's third question we saw some outrage and charisma, genuinely angry about something and demanding action from the PM.
To quote the trailer from the Iron Lady, "That's the tone.... that you want to strike.".
We're not sure that Cameron's quip to the SNP about a "Neverendum" will catch on, either.
Twitter was not impressed. But then, when is it?
Cameron is told of another fat cat. He tells MPs that he is not against people earning lots of money if their companies are growing.
But if the companies are not performing then the pay should reflect that. Then accuses the past government of doing "sweet nothing", quite spikily too.
|@ SophyRidgeSky : RT @IsabelOakeshott Ed miliband better have his facts right on rail fares or he's in serious trouble #pmqs|
|@ catherine_mayer : "I sometimes think what [the SNP] wants is a neverendum not a referendum" Cameron #soundbitesthatmakeyougroan #Scotland #pmqs|
|@ SophyRidgeSky : Note David Cameron has usual row of three women MPs behind him #pmqs|
|@ joeyjonessky : haven't the foggiest who's winning this argument at the moment. will try to find out! oddly messy pmqs all round so far|
|@ joncraig : Newly knighted Sir Bob Russell desperate to be called in PMQs. Bet Speaker does call him. He just called new Tory knight Sir Roger Gale!|
|@ jamesrbuk : Not sure about Cameron's "Neverendum" line... #pmqs|
He has used the panda joke on Cameron. That's been around for a while.
Robertson wants some clarity on the government's position on the referendum. He doesn't get it. Cameron just says he wants it to be fair.
PMQs has become very non-confrontational with a string of MPs asking easy and uncontroversial questions.
Well PMQs has now defended into a parrot session with the two main party leaders echoing each other. The chamber is bored. But Angus MacNeil, an SNP MP is yelling his head off.
Ed Milband is on to Scotland. And its another love-in because Cameron admits he and Miliband will be on "100% agreement." over the festering referendum row.
Cameron says the SNP only want to talk about process, not the union, and says the nationalists want a "neverendum"
|@ j_freedland : Understand why rail fares matters in marginal SE seats, but odd to lead on this rather than Scotland #pmqs|
Labour MP Luciana Berger castigated the PM for cutting the winter fuel allowance. Cam replies it was a labour policy from the last government that they haven't changed.
Sir Roger Gale chips in saying Miliband is talking "drivel" which isn't really a question, but never mind. He can get away wih it because he just got a knighthood and is cheered loudly.
Sir Roger wants to see even more High Speed Rail, Pushing the existing line in Kent all the way to Thanet.
Cameron promises nothing but says he'll look.
Bit of fire in Miliband now when he snarls at Cam to get his facts right about his own policy. It wasnt a good start to PMQs but he is finding his feet.
Cameron is annoying Ed Balls by switching the question around to executive pay and not answering the trains question properly.
Ed Miliband and Cameron are arguing the details of who allowed the train companies to introduce inflation busting fares. They are essentially blaming each other. Labour deny they allowed it and insist they blocked such rises.
David Cameron insists they reduced the amount by which fares could rise, but says the money is being partly used for investment.
Ed Miliband gets to his feet to cheers, mostly from Tories. As has been written widely, they are happy with the current Labour leader.
Miliband's first question is on train fares and why they are rising.
PM: the power for companies to increase fares above inflation was a Labour one.
We're about to get underway.
Lib Dem Scottish Secretary Michael Moore and his Labour shadow Margaret Curran are having a most convivial Scottish questions. They're agreeing with each other on practically everything. Currently on the ratio of welfare revenue spending to oil revenue in Scotland. Three to one, apparently.
Q1 Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness):
Q2 Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree):
Q3 Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South):
Q4 Andrew Stephenson (Pendle):
Q5 Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West):
Q6 Mr Michael Meacher (Oldham West and Royton):
Q7 Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal):
Q8 David Simpson (Upper Bann):
Q9 Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough):
Q10 Valerie Vaz (Walsall South):
Q11 Gregg McClymont (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East):
Q12 Tony Lloyd (Manchester Central):
Q13 Tony Cunningham (Workington):
Q14 Liz Kendall (Leicester West):
Nothing spectacular so far but we're about to go topical.
|@ GuidoFawkes : Chaps, go easy on @Ed_Miliband at #PMQs today. Like Ed says, the race isn't over yet and you need to KEEP him in it. #DUEMA @Number10gov|