Ed Miliband was spoilt for choice at today’s PMQs. Scarcely a week goes by without the government reneging on some budget promise, so Labour’s leader had a whole fistful of blunders to consider. Wisely, he took the simplest option and quoted an apologia made by David Cameron on April 11th.
‘I will defend every part of the budget,’ the prime minister told some interviewer somewhere. ‘I worked on it very closely with the Chancellor. Line by line.’
That was pure gold for Miliband. And pure poison for the prime minister.
‘What went wrong?’ asked the Labour leader casually.
Cameron flipped into full denial mode. ‘I cannot be a U-turn!’ he shouted fierily. ‘It cannot be a U-turn to get rid of a Labour tax increase.’ He was proud, he said, to cancel Labour’s tax hikes. And he facetiously invited Miliband to congratulate him on lowering fuel duty and thus cramming motorists’ wallets with cash.
‘Oh I see,’ scoffed Miliband, ‘so it’s all part of a seamless political strategy.’
He attacked the chancellor for ‘hiding away’ yesterday and sending the lovely Chloe Smith on to Newsnight where her head was ritually chewed to pieces by a grizzled Jeremy Paxman.
Cameron insisted that the chancellor hadn’t been ‘hiding away’. He was explaining the policy at the despatch box. (But such is parliament’s popularity that speaking in the chamber and going missing are virtually synonymous.)
After a promising start, Miliband reverted to his favourite tactics. One by one, he produced his snappiest and most alliterative sound-bites and tossed them towards the PM. ‘Panic at the pumps.’ ‘Back to the bunker.’ ‘Plan A has failed.’ ‘A double-dip recession made in Downing Street.’
Miliband clings to these moth-eaten playthings like a child of six who hasn’t outgrown his teddies. Only one of his slogans has been redesigned. The reduction of the 50p tax rate has always been labelled, ‘the tax break for millionaires’. That description now appears with extra rocket boosters.
‘A tax break for millionaires funded by a tax on pensioners!’ Miliband said.
He seems to have learned something from Bill Clinton. Persecuting the wealthy is not, on its own, a winning tactic. The Great Fornicator used to argue that tax cuts for millionaires actually appeal to voters, (but only secretly, not in opinion polls), because every citizen dreams of making a huge pile of dosh at some point.
And Miliband couldn’t resist a Jimmy Carr jibe. He attacked the PM for censuring Carr’s tax avoidance scheme while reducing the tax bill for his own front-benchers.
‘It’s one rule for stage comedians and other for comedians in cabinet.’
Not a great line. And at the first mention of tax-chicanery Cameron unfurled his secret weapon. Ken Livingstone to the rescue! Not only has the tax-shy, lizard-lover secured election to Labour’s NEC, he even topped the poll.
‘They’re the party voting for tax avoiders,’ said Cameron.
It’s easy to chalk this up as a win for Miliband. But given the state of the government, he ought to occupy a far more commanding position. His mode of attack is stale and predictable. His soundbites are so old their teeth are falling out. And his voice remains as captivating as the drone of a far-off generator at a village fete.
Cameron meanwhile appears imperturbable even though his government seems determined to produce more boobs than a porn channel. The Tory leader, all rosy cheeks and boundless confidence, was brimming with bonhomie today. And communicating it to his back benchers.
If Miliband wants to dislodge him he needs new weapons and niftier tactics. And he should make the PM seem uncomfortable in the House.
Today Cameron looked about as flustered as George Best at happy hour.Tags: David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Fuel duty, Labour, PMQs