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'Flashman' Cameron on backfoot over 'omnishambles' Budget

By Ian Dunt

David Cameron was criticised from across the political spectrum today for an angry performance at PMQs, in which he faced a barrage of critical questions about the economy.

Commentators said the prime minister looked red-faced and emotional as he answered questions from Labour leader Ed Miliband before turning his fire on his own backbenchers in a move that was criticised by Conservative commentators.

In the first PMQs since the series of political rows which met the Budget, Mr Miliband said Downing Street was in the grips of an "omni-shambles", as it fought off attacks on the 50p top rate of tax, VAT on pasties and heritage buildings, a granny tax and a cap on tax relief on charitable donations.

"He talks about my last month. I accept, it was a tough month," Mr Cameron replied.

"Let's look at his month. He lost the Bradford West by-election. He showed complete weakness when it came to the Unite trade union and the fuel strike."

Mr Miliband responded by attacking Francis Maude's advice for car owners to fill up jerry cans with petrol – advice which some said could trigger panic buying and create a health and safety crisis.

"I am not going to take any lectures on industrial relations from a prime minister who caused panic at the pumps," he said.

"Let him apologise for the gross irresponsibility of the Cabinet minister who caused that panic at the pumps."

He then urged the prime minister to "calm down" before adding: "This Budget fails the test of fairness, it fails the test of competence."

The prime minister accused Labour of tabling an amendment to the 50p tax rate decision which would actually reintroduce the 40p tax rate – 5p less than the government's policy.

"He's had almost nothing to do [over the Easter break] but even that he's completely incompetent at," Mr Cameron said.

"Not good enough to run the opposition, not good enough to run the country."

Mr Cameron responded to various questions by criticising Ken Livingstone for his tax affairs and calling on Mr Miliband to condemn it. Several seemingly-planted questions from Tory backbenchers suggested it was a concerted government strategy to escape questions about the Budget.

But when Conservative backbencher Douglas Carswell asked about the role of civil servants in the government and suggested they were blocking ministerial action, he received a humiliating response from the prime minister.

"There are a few occasions when I think the gentleman needs a sense of humour," Mr Cameron observed, prompting handbag noises in the Commons.

ConservativeHome editor Tim Montgomerie was among the many conservative commentators online who criticised the remark.

He tweeted: "Lots of Flashman on display from Cameron today, especially in response to Douglas Carswell. Not attractive."

At the end of the session, Respect MP George Galloway had his first question since he returned to the House after winning the Bradford West by-election.

"As I was saying, Mr Speaker," he began, sarcastically.

A demand for Britain to withdraw troops from Afghanistan before the timetable prompted Mr Cameron to praise the "great power and great force" of his rhetoric but warn him not to "play to the gallery on this issue".