A muted PMQs today. But Cameron opened a fresh offensive which may prove to be a blunder. The leaders began by discussing the Gaza crisis in bland and soporific tones. The absence of heat and noise from the debate indicates how little it affects Britain. And how little Britain affects the debate. Cameron and Miliband were in virtual agreement throughout. And they were keen to urge everyone, other than themselves, to work harder to create peace. Cameron suggested that Obama should make the Middle-East a key objective of his second-term, just as one might make weeding the raspberries a key objective of the coming weekend.
Miliband noted that ‘confidence in the two-state solution is dwindling.’ But if you canvass politicians outside the Middle East you find there are about 200 states demanding ‘the two-state solution’. It’s just the two states involved that don’t want it.
On domestic matters, Miliband chose the health service. And he revealed the calamitous fact that the number of cataract operations has fallen. Disturbing news for the poor blinking victims, of course, but unlikely to trigger a no-confidence motion. The Labour leader was coasting today. He seemed to have left his gag-writers in the pub to enjoy an early lunch while he jousted half-heartedly with the prime minister. He was ‘out of touch’, said Miliband. He had ‘no clue about detail’. And he ‘didn’t listen.’
Not true. The prime minister listens very hard. He and his crack team of snipers have been stalking Ed Miliband obsessively from studio to studio and from podium to podium. And they’ve spotted a frailty which Cameron revealed today for the first time. Miliband, they reckon, is a glitter-ball statesman who reflects teeny rays of political energy back at any source that shines on him.
Cameron warmed up for this attack by mocking John Prescott’s failed attempt to get himself elected as become Humberside’s top cop. Prezza had helped out by writing the best gag.
‘This is a referendum on everything the government has done,’ Prescott told his fellow northerners as he canvassed their votes. They promptly dumped him in the nearest wheelie bin. The Tories greeted Prezza’s fall with raptures. ‘More, more!’ they pleaded.
‘There’s plenty more!’ crowed Cameron. The Labour leader, he said, had made history this week: ‘He told the Labour conference he’s Disraeli. He told the press that he’s Margaret Thatcher. He told parliament he’s more Eurosceptic than Bill Cash. He told the CBI he’s more Europhile than Tony Blair. He’s impersonated more politicians than Rory Bremner. But this time the joke’s on him.’
Peals of laughter greeted this new caricature of the Labour leader. But what a turnaround. The Mili-bashers on the Tory side have always portrayed their target as a subhuman among parliamentarians. He’s a wonk. He’s a geek. He’s a Rubik’s cube-twiddling misfit. He’s an unelectable Goofy cartoon with bunged up nasal passages and a weird way of pronouncing his words so that they sound like aqualung bubbles breaking the surface.
Now he’s the opposite. He’s gone mainstream. He’s crossed over, according to Cameron. He’s all things to all focus groups. He’s become a political asset, a gorgeous blank square in the great game of electoral Scrabble. This, of course, is the very accusation leveled at Tony Blair and Bill Clinton in the days when they rode to victory in every election they contested.
Dave himself, when ‘Cameron the Chameleon’ was deemed a threat, merited the same sought-after smear. To accuse a politician of favouring whatever his audience favours is to admit that he’s got voter-appeal. And though Miliband did very little today, he took away the greatest honour the Tories have ever paid him.
If Dave has converted to the cause of Ed Miliband, he’d be wise to keep it to himself.
Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.