Page last updated at 12:58 GMT, Wednesday, 20 May 2009 13:58 UK

Cameron steps up election calls

Brown and Cameron on general election 'chaos' claims

Tory leader David Cameron has seized on remarks by Gordon Brown - who said an election would cause "chaos" - to urge him to go to the country immediately.

In angry Commons exchanges, Mr Cameron asked what he meant by the remarks.

The prime minister replied: "What would cause chaos is if a Conservative government were elected and caused public spending cuts."

Mr Cameron hit back: "So there we have it - the first admission that you think you are going to lose."

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg also called on Mr Brown to hold an election - but he said it had to be used as an opportunity to shake-up the entire system rather than simply to bring in "a few new faces with the same old rotten rules".

The House has got to have some humility about what has happened in these last few days
Prime Minister Gordon Brown

All three party leaders offered brief tributes to Speaker Michael Martin who on Monday became the biggest scalp in the MPs' expenses controversy.

Mr Brown rebuffed demands for an immediate general election, insisting that the government's priority had to be sorting out the allowances system and steering the country through recession.

He said Tuesday's all-party talks on expenses had made "a great deal of progress" but there was still a lot of work to do.

'Humility'

"The House has got to have some humility about what has happened in these last few days," he said.

"And we have got to recognise, all of us, that is on all sides of the House, that mistakes have been made by MPs in all parties, and having had the humility to recognise that we also have the duty to sort the problem out."

But Mr Cameron said only a general election could resolve the "paralysis" in the political system which had been sparked by the disclosures over MPs' expenses.

To roars of Tory support, Mr Cameron told the prime minster: "I know you are frightened of elections. But how can you possibly believe that in the fourth year of a parliament in one of the oldest democracies in the world, that a general election could somehow bring chaos?

"Have another go at a better answer."

'Out of touch'

Mr Brown told him: "I'm not going to support a programme of Conservative spending cuts.

"Look here. The House has got to have some humility about what's happened in these last few days. We've got to recognise, all of us, that ... mistakes have been made by MPs in all parties.

"And having had the humility to recognise that, we also have the duty to sort the problem out."

Mr Cameron said the best way to show some humility was to "ask the people, who put us here".

He told Mr Brown: "You are so hopelessly out of touch. How can the answer to a crisis of democracy be an unelected prime minister?"

He said there had been elections in many other countries during the economic crisis, adding: "In the US they had an election in the middle of a banking crisis. Was that chaos? Is President Obama the agent of chaos?"

'Touche'

There was moment of light relief as Nick Clegg tried to pin Mr Brown down on the issue of democratic reform.

Mr Clegg is entitled to ask two questions as leader of the Liberal Democrats, but the Speaker initially failed to call him to make his second point.

Instead, as Mr Clegg stood up, Labour MP Virendra Sharma was called before Mr Martin realised his error.

To laughter from MPs, the Speaker said: "It's just I thought there were two questions in the first one, but there we are."

Mr Clegg, who joined in calls for the Speaker to quit at the start of the week, arguably hastening his downfall, acknowledged the rebuke, saying: "Touche, Mr Speaker."

He then went on to call for wholesale reform of the electoral system telling the prime minister: "Of course there should be an election but people don't want an election where all you will get is a few new faces with the same old rotten rules."

He added: "Any system where so few votes give a government so much power will always breed arrogance and secrecy."



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