Cameron, back on form, rules out VAT rise if Tories win

Cameron 'wins' final PMQs before election – and it could be last ya-boo session of its kind if Ed has his way

The Mole

After a lousy Tuesday, David Cameron bounced back with a feisty performance at Prime Minister’s Questions today, totally wrong-footing Ed Miliband with a promise not to increase VAT in the next Parliament to pay for uncosted tax cuts.

At the final PMQs before Parliament packs up this weekend for the election campaign, Miliband challenged Cameron to give a straight answer to a straight question (after the PM had given a disarmingly “straight answer” to the BBC over his plans to retire after two terms) - “Will you rule out a rise in VAT?”

To everybody’s surprise, including Miliband’s, Cameron accepted the challenge: “You are right - a straight question deserves a straight answer and the answer is Yes.”

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It was a serious blow for the Labour leader. The party has made the fear of a secret Tory plan to increase VAT – “the tax that hits everyone” – central to its general election campaign. Until today, no Tory minister had been prepared categorically to rule it out.

Miliband retorted: “Nobody is going to believe it.”

He could be right, of course, because Cameron similarly ruled out a VAT rise before the last election, and broke his promise when he got into office.

But the damage was done - and Cameron wasn’t finished. It was his turn to ask Miliband a straight question – Would Labour raise National Insurance contributions? – and he never got a straight answer, allowing him to warn the House that Labour was planning a “jobs tax bombshell”.

You can bet your bottom dollar that under the direction of Lynton Crosby, the Tory election strategist, the Tories will now resurrect the “tax bombshell” election posters that have proved a potent weapon against Labour in the past.

Cameron’s wife, Samantha and their children were in the public gallery to watch PMQs – which, if Miliband wins the election, could be the last ever in this format.

The Labour leader has floated the idea of scrapping the rowdy weekly session and, instead, taking questions from the public in a “people’s PMQs”.

After watching a montage of the past five years of PMQs, shadow Cabinet minister Chuka Umunna told the BBC’s Daily Politics show that it proved "how pointless it is.” He added: “Ed is very sympathetic to looking at how we can do things differently.”

Despite its ya-boo nature, much criticised by the public, the Wednesday lunchtime session does have its uses.

It enabled Cameron formally to say “sorry” to thousands of NHS patients who have contracted HIV through blood transfusions on the health service, and to announce the allocation of £25 million to transitional relief for the victims.