Ed Miliband is at his best when at his quietest. He began Prime Minister’s Questions today by repeating a question put to David Cameron shortly before the last election. ‘Why do you want to be Prime Minister?’
Cameron had replied: ‘Because I think I’d be good at it.’
Great surges of Labour mirth greeted that quotation. When the noise died away, Miliband turned to the Prime Minister politely.
‘Where did it all go wrong?’
Cameron was like a man facing the downdraft of a helicopter. But he weathered the onslaught and responded forcefully with a list of government achievements. Two million taken out of tax. A cap on benefits, immigration and fuel duty. And the deficit cut by 25 per cent.
Yelling Tory backbenchers drowned out all Labour’s jeers and catcalls.
‘They’re well-whipped today,’ said Miliband, acknowledging that his gang of gibbons had been out-shouted by the government’s. ‘A shame it didn’t happen last night,’ he said. He made a few more joking references to ‘fisticuffs in the lobby’ as the Commons voted on Lords reform
He was onto a good thing here. Yesterday evening, we’re reliably informed, cage-fighting broke out inside parliament. Tory whips were seen physically manhandling Conservative rebels who were determined to nobble Nick Clegg and to kill off his ridiculous Senate before it had even seen the light of day – never mind the darkness of politics.
But Cameron seized the moral high ground. ‘Pathetic,’ he called Miliband’s question. ‘Half-baked gossip and tittle-tattle.’ He asked Miliband to account for Labour’s woeful record in office. ‘Never has so much money been borrowed. Never has so much money been wasted. And never have so many people been let down. This country will never forgive them.’
He was getting rather flushed by now. ‘The redder he gets,’ Miliband gloated, ‘the less he convinces.’ This backfired and Cameron accused ‘Red Ed Miliband’ of being friends with ‘Red Ken Livingstone’ and the union boss, ‘Red Ed McCluskey’. He wanted to know why Miliband hadn’t raised the social care bill and the issue of the elderly.
For good reason, it turned out. Miliband has his own plans for Granny. She’s going to be his secret propaganda weapon during the summer months. His showcased the campaign today by explicitly linking tax-cuts for the super-wealthy with tax-hikes for the super-wrinkly. It’s a nifty line for Labour to push. Poor old Granny and her bowl of gruel is subsidising the Bolly-quaffing fatcats of the Square Mile. Expect a lot more in this vein. Miliband followed up with his usual list of Tory-toppling charges.
‘U-turns. Wrong choices. Double-dip made in Downing St.’
Cameron replied by reciting a catalogue of triumphs for which he now claims personal credit. Crossrail, the Olympics, and the revival of UK car manufacturing are all down to Dave, apparently.
But this wasn’t about achievements or even principles. Just decibels. Both sides roared themselves hoarse trying to burst their opponents’ ear-drums. At the end I consulted my suffering lug-holes and put the Tories ahead by a bat-squeak.
Dave’s favourite backbencher of the day was Andrew Bridgen. The average income in his area, he said, stood at £23,000. Yet Labour opposed a benefit cap of £26,000. Cameron was so delighted that he broke into verse.
‘We back the workers, they back the shirkers!’
Sultry-voiced Emily Thornberry asked if George Osborne planned to withdraw the ‘false allegations’ published in the Spectator last week and to apologise to Ed Balls. Cameron corrected her by isolating Osborne’s specific claim. ‘The shadow chancellor has questions to answer’. So he does, said Cameron, his voice rising to a gleeful pitch. ‘Who designed the regulatory system that failed?! Who was City minister when Northern Rock was selling 110 per cent mortgages?!! And who was responsible for boom and bust and never apologised for his dreadful record in office?!!!’
And on it went. Both sets of hooligans had a lot of fun today. But as political debates go it was as edifying as a conversation between a buzz-saw and a road-drill.Tags: PMQs, UK politics