Labour leader Ed Miliband said the British Prime Minister seemed to have “torn up” controversial plans for halving jail time for serious criminals who plead guilty, including rapists, in the face of a backlash.
Miliband also dismissed concessions over the coalition’s health service shake- up that were announced on Tuesday, insisting Cameron was “completely shameless and will say anything”.
But the premier retorted that Miliband was merely “jumping on bandwagons” and displaying “weak leadership”. And he backed Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, who championed the sentencing reforms, saying he was doing a “superb job”.
The clashes came during a bad-tempered Prime Minister’s Questions session in the Commons, which saw the Speaker call for language to be toned down.
Cameron is believed to have ordered Clarke to think again at a one-on-one meeting to discuss the plans, which are currently out for consultation.
The prime minister is expected to set out the Government’s final policy in a speech on law and order later this month.
The U-turn has been greeted with delight by the Tory right — but it will leave Clarke having to find up to £130 million (€146m) of savings elsewhere at his department.
In the Commons, Miliband said: “He knows and the whole country knows he is in a total mess on his sentencing policy, just like on all his other crime policies.”
But Cameron insisted: “What we want is tough sentences for serious offenders.
“We produced a consultation paper that had widespread support for many of the proposals that it made and in the coming weeks we will be publishing our legislation.”
The Labour leader pointed out that it was the second time in two days that Cameron had stepped in to execute a policy climbdown, after he announced significant changes to NHS reforms.
On Tuesday, Cameron promised reforms to the NHS would not result in a US-style private system, in a speech designed to win over a wary public and restore his image as friend of publicly-funded healthcare.