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Jane Merrick

Jane Merrick is the Political Editor of the Independent on Sunday. She has been a political journalist for seven years, previously working at the Press Association and the Daily Mail

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Brown ambushed on Gurkhas, and Clegg's finest hour

Posted by Jane Merrick
  • Wednesday, 29 April 2009 at 12:37 pm
Firstly, let's get swine flu out of the way. Gordon Brown announced three new cases in the UK, which was rather extraordinary. Why not an announcement by the Department of Health? Is it for the Prime Minister to reveal this to the House?

Anyway, it set the tone for the first half of PMQs. Cameron's first three questions were on swine flu, and there was a lot of "I thank the right honourable member" from both the Tory leader and the Prime Minister. The House remained hushed. Perhaps because many MPs, like me, and in fact many experts, are undecided whether this is going to be very, very serious and a lot of people are going to die, or, for the UK at least, the reaction is a little bit overblown.

Cameron switched to the issue of the Gurkhas' right to stay for his last three questions. The mood of the House changed dramatically. He praised Nick Clegg for holding a debate on this later, which was a great move, as it isolated the PM straight away.

Next, Labour MP Martin Salter raised the issue of a Gurkha who had died in his constituency, who would have been deported under the new Home Office rules. It was a devastating intervention, and Brown appeared to be ambushed by this cross-party fury over the issue.

But it was Clegg who played the real blinder. This was the Lib Dem leader's best performance at PMQs. Clegg has struggled to find the right issue to get the PM on, but this, on the Gurkhas, is the right one.

Clegg effectively described Brown as dishonest, immoral and unprincipled, and when the PM was evasive on the issue, he said: "What kind of answer is that? it is the answer of a man who seems to know he is doing a shameful thing but hasn't got the guts to admit it or change it." For Brown, who has written a book about Courage, being described as shameful and gutless will have been very wounding.

PS I get the feeling this will be settled by the end of the week with another u-turn. At least two newspapers are running campaigns on the Gurkhas, including the Sun (which never loses campaigns). This is an issue where there is cross-party anger. It will be the swine flu crisis which outlasts the Gurkha crisis.