Coffee House

PMQs sketch: Ed Balls ruins Miliband’s piece of theatre

26 March 2014

5:20 PM

26 March 2014

5:20 PM

Last week, if you can remember that far back, World War Three was about to start in Ukraine. The fixture was postponed, thankfully, and politics at Westminster has returned to the usual domestic blood-letting.

Both leaders were in chipper mood. Cameron sees everything moving in his direction, including the Labour party which has accepted his benefits cap.

Miliband was equally buoyed up. He was grinning and skipping at the despatch box like a boxing kangaroo. The energy giant SSE had just announced a price freeze till 2016. Which is exactly what Miliband prescribed last autumn. So today, at least, he appears to be running the country. Naturally he made the most of it. He mocked the prime minister for likening price regulation to ‘a communist plot.’

Cameron refuted Miliband’s authorship of SSE’s freeze. On the contrary, he said, it was all due to his decision to ‘roll back the cost of green levies.’ He quoted an internal SSE document commenting on Miliband’s price promise. ‘An externally imposed freeze would not affect the cost of supplying energy.’

But so what? The public will register a causal progession: Miliband urges freeze. Freeze arrives. Ergo freeze down to Miliband.


Both leaders were engaged in some pretty bizarre footwork here. Miliband was claiming credit for a benefit he didn’t create. And Cameron, to deny Miliband an advantage, was claiming that the benefit originated in his betrayal of his most dearly held principle.

Miliband is now allergic to an expanding list of political issues. Growth, unemployment, inflation and the deficit. Cameron enumerated them, jeeringly. In his desperation the Labour leader turned to a single clause from a single page (p47) of the OBR report which endorses his complaint that living costs are rising and living standards falling.

‘Ah, finally!’ said Cameron, with his favourite note of triumphant cruelty, ‘he’s got to the budget.’ He accused Miliband of ‘flailing around’ and of being ‘a man with no plan and increasingly no future’. Twice he hinted that Ed Balls supports his boss in public while privately briefing against him.

Miliband turned theatrically to Balls, with a comedy frown, and mouthed, ‘What does that mean?’ This gesture of friendship was slightly marred by Balls’s failure to reply to his leader. Or even look at him.

Miliband avoided the bingo question which backbencher Stephen Pound brought up. Pound is such an articulate, charming and witty MP that he’s become a perfectly useless politician. He got to his feet, wreathed in smiles and self-satisfaction, and asked the prime minister to distance himself from the ‘snobbish’ beer and bingo Tweet of last week.

‘We all know that he loves bingo,’ said Cameron, reciting from a six-day-old script, ‘because it’s the nearest he’ll get to number ten.’

That gag was intended for Miliband. Many northern MPs complained that the PM has neglected their toiling constituents. David Winnick shrieked that Cameron was too keen to boast about his achievements. A fair point but Mr Winnick squealed so loud that he nearly shattered his glasses.

Jenny Chapman posed the day’s trickiest question. She described a sick elderly constituent being forced to wait for an ambulance, ‘for four hours, vomiting blood.’ She warned the prime minister not to read out a prepared answer from his folder.

Cameron improvised a neat reverse-shot. Ministers are taught never to involve themselves in particular cases but Cameron played the concerned country doctor. ‘I’m happy to look at the circumstances and see what lessons can be learned. She says she doesn’t want that. But it’s the right thing to do.’

Cheeky. And it worked.

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Show comments
  • Mynydd

    Game, set and match to Mr Miliband.

  • HookesLaw

    The single incident of a 4 hour wait is a typical pointless question. There can be any number of reasons but none of them are the prime ministers business, certainly not the business of a PM who is spending over 130 billion on the NHS compared to 110 billion in 2009.
    My own experience relatively recently of an ambulance was of 2 of them (well one was a paramedic on a bike) turned up in no time. Is this relevant?

    • telemachus

      The episode draws attention to the fact that we have gone from a situation of virtually abolishing 4 hour waits to handing patients literally dying queuing in ambulances while stacked up outside A&E waiting to join what is now often a 24 hour queue
      And what do we get?
      Smug Hunt telling us he has solved Stafford
      Sending the poor folk of Stafford to join the 10 mile queues on the M6 trying to get urgently needed help? I think not

      • Harold Angryperson

        Better a 10-mile queue on the M6 than Burnham’s “Death Camp”.

      • tjamesjones

        actually, this incident might just as well draw attention to the fact that we have “gone from a situation of virtually abolishing 4 hour waits” to a situation where we have “vitually abolished 4 hour waits”. It’s one incident, and not picked at random. As David Cameron implies, we’re not going to win anything governing by anecdote.

  • telemachus

    Now just what is this?
    A anarchist poster earlier this afternoon drew our attention to this from the revisionist Hodges
    That rather grudging tone – “Ed Miliband said it last year so I suppose we’ll have to do it” – made me suspicious that Balls was distancing himself from the stance. But friends of the shadow chancellor were adamant he fully backs the proposal. “We identified this trap a year ago,” said an ally. “There’s no way we’re falling for that one.”
    You see there is an orchestrated attempt to destabilise Ed Miliband and put a wedge between the tightest double act in politics
    Well it will not wash. The message that the cost of living is rising beyond the means of the poor and disabled remains understood by the Sun and Mirror readers

    • wycombewanderer

      19% of those polled think that Miliband is a future PM.

      I’m one of the 81% you’re one of the deluded 19%.

      Do you realise how dumb that makes labour voters?

      almost Half of the 36% of those who claim they will vote labour will do so in the full knowledge that they are voting for a turd!

      • HookesLaw

        Polls are wonderful.
        A recent one put UKIP third in the Euro elections and another gave a clear majority for staying in the EU.
        Its no wonder people are not keen of supporting UKIP since they fail dismally to stand up for UK interests in the Euro parliament.

        • GnosticBrian

          Ukip follows the same line in Brussels as Irish Republicans did in the UK Parliament – they don’t vote on ANY issues.

      • telemachus

        Remember what they said about Thatcher in 1978 and 1979

        • Colonel Mustard

          Weird Ed, Son of Communist is no Thatcher.

          • Shazza

            She had bigger b****s than the all of the Labour wimps together on the front bench.

        • Nicholas chuzzlewit

          Yes they probably said ‘that woman is going cleanse the rancid filth of socialism from British life’.

          • telemachus

            She was almost ditched

            • saffrin

              She wasn’t almost ditched she was ditched after going insane.
              It’s what happens to people that start believing their own lies.
              Take Gordon Brown, Ed Balls and Harriet Harman as other examples.

      • George_Arseborne

        Why are the Tories so obsessed with a snap poll over the weekend. The next day another one came out with Labour gain. Why didn’t u say anything? Energy freeze by SSE has come to roost. So in summary Milliband rules though in opposition. Cameron is just useless and he knows that. Check how reddish he was at PMQ

        • wycombewanderer

          Priceless, Miliband said he was going to freeze prices(no explanation of the practicalities nor legalities of that), SSE put their prices up, today they announced that they will freeze that price rise and Miliband claims that’s a success!

          They also sacked 500 people to pay for it.

          Well done all champers all round at labour party HQ!

        • Nicholas chuzzlewit

          Inarticulate rubbish. Ignore.

      • Makroon

        They haven’t voted yet. There is a world of difference between saying you support Labour in one of YouGov’s daily and irritatingly trivial polls, and actually putting your cross on the paper for Red.
        Let’s see how the Labour turnout holds up.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Hee-hee. Glad you read it.

      I’m not an anarchist.

      But you are a muppet.

    • Nicholas chuzzlewit

      You truly are an utterly worthless individual whose vacuous rubbish adds precisely nothing to this or any other debate. Miliband’s ludicrous ambition to control a global wholesale market (energy) led to large price rises before Christmas which, surprise, surprise, certain energy companies are now willing to freeze. Instead of reducing energy costs and reducing his beloved cost of living, the idiot has effectively entrenched higher prices for everybody. On top of that the imbecile is now claiming credit. Labour, it truly is the party of incompetence, mediocrity, failure, lies, lying and liars.

      • telemachus

        I can see re-education will be necessary for some and will be provided
        Others like youself may need to be excluded

        • saffrin

          Hmm, energy price rises having nothing to do with the EU’s demands we close our coal fired power stations of course.

          One can only guess what gas prices will rise to now Brussels has provoked Putin with their lies.

    • SpookySpook

      “An orchestrated attempt to destabilise Ed’? Wow. The paranoia is setting in. How very Left Wing.

  • Barakzai

    Skippy? Surely he’s definitely Wallace . . .

    • swatnan

      If you can’t beat them, join them. Ed should be embracing his Wallace persona, and handing out free Wallace dolls, just like Oleg Meerkat .
      Kids love them; and so do parents.

      • Makroon

        Lloyd Evans is wrong, SSE’s ‘price freeze’ will just pass the public by.
        Don’t know about Wallace, but Cameron is making sterling efforts to look just like his caricature. He badly needs a (Margaret Thatcher type), makeover.