Sketch: Cameron's liaison committee debut

By Ben Wright
Political correspondent, BBC News


Confident, calm and loquacious.

David Cameron parried questions about scrapped aircraft carriers, higher tuition fees and spending cuts with a panache reminiscent of Tony Blair in more benign political times.

There was a dash of self-deprecation and perhaps just a smidgen of self-satisfaction.

David Cameron handled his first liaison committee well and he knew it.

For two hours the committee skimmed across a huge number of subjects, from Trident to forestry policy and the PM had a firm grip on his facts.

Social unrest

Every MP wanted their say and much of their questioning was sharp.

Margaret Hodge, the Labour chair of the Public Accounts Committee, has made a successful move from minister to inquisitor and needled the prime minister on whether the government can make the savings it claims and later on social housing.

That provoked one of the spikiest exchanges of the afternoon, as she pressed the PM on whether social unrest was a price worth paying for housing benefit reform.

David Cameron said social unrest would increase if taxpayers continued to fund housing benefit for people living in the fanciest parts of London.

On the process of governing, David Cameron described himself as a chairman several times - perhaps a necessity of heading a coalition government.

He also said that there should be better long-term thinking and policy planning in Whitehall - and said that parliament and the press needed to play their part.

Defence probing

The questions on defence were revealing.

Mr Cameron described the Strategic Defence Review as the toughest part of the spending review.

Asked about the leaked letter from the defence secretary Liam Fox to him, the prime minister said it didn't make much difference but showed the Ministry of Defence had a "worrying" leak habit.

On occasion, the PM's insouciance irritated the MPs.

Did No 10 have a hand in the letter written to the Times by military chiefs defending the government's spending decisions? The prime minister didn't know and didn't sound as if he cared. The MPs did and told him to put an answer in the post.

As the clock ticked over the two hour mark many of the seats behind the prime minister had emptied.

But David Cameron clattered along and finished by signalling his support for a bank holiday to mark the royal wedding, the only subject not raised by the MPs.

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