Seemed a good idea at the time. Ed Miliband decided that the progress report published by the Coalition is a ‘secret audit’. At today’s PMQs he accused Cameron of sneaking it out in order to dodge bad coverage. Poor old Ed. He can’t read the chess-match more than one move ahead. The PM gave the obvious answer. Labour has never fessed up to the gap between its promises and its achievements. The Coalition has.
‘A week sitting in the Canary Islands with nothing else to think of,’ mocked Cameron. ‘Is this the best he can do?’
‘Well, he’s going to have to do better than that,’ said Miliband from his lofty moral perch. Cameron jeered at him for lacking credible policies.
‘He can’t ask about welfare because he knows he’s on wrong side of the argument.’
Labour spent the rest of the session trying to haul themselves onto the right side of the argument. This meant unleashing Operation Starving Kiddie. It’s an enjoyable wheeze and it has many guises and varieties. Basic plan: the backbenchers coalesce to accuse the prime minister of voter-abuse.
First into the lists was Paul Goggins whose superbly cowed and dreary name suited the game perfectly.
‘One million children in poverty don’t qualify for a free school meal,’ pined Mr Goggins. He asked Cameron to ‘allay their fears’ by vowing that the gratis grub would continue under the universal credit system.
Cameron failed to give Goggins the asked-for promise. Instead he flannelled about universal credit helping the neediest most. It was an excellent start to the day’s manouevres. The PM had failed to deny that he was a committed baby-famisher.
Next, Cameron was accused of mugging mothers who can’t find a boyfriend. Lucy Powell, Manchester’s new MP, expressed concerns about ‘a single mum called Maggie in my constituency’ who stands to lose £1000 a year under the tax credit freeze.
Cameron boomeranged it back at her. ‘If we’re saving five billion, where would Labour find it? The NHS? Defence? Time we had some answers.’
Meg Hillier, speaking for Hackney’s poor, accused Cameron of not providing stationery, writing lessons and secretarial help for those who claim government handouts. ‘How many families,’ she quavered, ‘could face fines for not filling out long tax forms?’
Then Labour blundered. Stephen Pound own-goaled it by asking which families were about to lose child benefits, unawares. Answer: rich ones. Labour’s position, as Cameron pointed out, is to force average-earners with no children to pay benefits to millionaires with lots of them. Labour swiftly recovered. Julie Hilling paraded a swathes more of Cameron’s hapless victims: soldiers, teachers and nurses. All hit by the credit freeze.
‘Why are hard-working people like this paying for his economic failure?’
‘Paying for the mess left by Labour,’ yelled Cameron, his voice rising to a shriek.
The best came last. Stephen Doughty had the privilege of firing Labour’s Number One bazooka at Cameron. ‘Is the prime minister proud of the growth in food banks and does he plan to visit one?’
Cameron attending a food bank is about as likely as Vince Cable joining the board of Foxtons.
The PM got came through Operation Starving Kiddie in good shape. His new wheeze is to lecture Labour like a faintly exasperated dad. ‘Take responsibility,’ he urged them. And he highlighted their opposition to ‘£83 billion worth’ of spending cuts. (An exaggeration, surely, but Labour can hardly disclaim it by saying, ‘No, actually, we’ve only opposed £76 billion of cuts.’)
A good day for Ed, too. At least from Ed’s point of view. But neutrals won’t warm to his sanctimonious, self-admiring air. And his piety-without-responsibility approach to every single reform makes him look like the sort of frivolous, posh-boy part-timer who, he claims, fills the Tory cabinet.
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