A Prime Minister can leave PMQs happy if he’s sent his troops off for Christmas in a good mood. Today David Cameron managed that, weaving in festive jokes through a list of statistics that shot Labour down. He was helped by the fact that Ed Miliband didn’t have a coherent line of attack at all, dancing from complaining that the employment figures still showed too many people were in part-time work to energy bills, to the Chancellor’s missed targets on the economy and on to childcare and the the 50p rate.
There was a theme here: look at how the country is struggling to get enough work and afford the bills while the PM rewards his ‘Christmas card list’ with a tax cut. But Miliband failed to articulate that theme and instead looked as though he was hunting through grumbles about the government, desperately trying to find one that will stick.
If Miliband helped the Prime Minister by putting on a poor show, Ed Balls was even more helpful. He was gesticulating away again on the Labour front bench, much to Cameron’s joy:
‘Ah! We’ve got a new hand gesture from the Shadow Chancellor! I’d have thought after today’s briefing in the papers the hand gesture from the Shadow Chancellor would be ‘bye bye’! You don’t need it to be Christmas to know you’re sitting next to a turkey.’
And when he came back for the next question, the Prime Minister could then stick to his ‘tough decisions’ narrative, closing with ‘the economy is getting stronger and Labour is getting weaker.’
His backbench ‘beserkers’ were out in force today too: Therese Coffey, long a member of any support group running even managed to wish the PM and his family a merry Christmas, while her colleagues worked hard at pointing and shouting across the chamber at Labour. That the PM has his party behind him rather than leaving him to fight alone is important, and something his coterie have been working on recently.
But not all backbenchers were as happy to go out to bat for Cameron. A very cross Anne Main asked why she hadn’t received answers on the allegations in the Sunday Times about Theresa Villiers helping an old friend with planning permission for a railway depot in Main’s constituency. Luciana Berger savvily followed this up when it came to her turn by asking the PM to ‘ensure the Cabinet Secretary responds before the House rises?’
The Prime Minister said that he’d ‘seen a copy of the Cabinet Secretary’s response and I’m confident that it will be sent in the next few days’. And so it will be an angry Tory backbench question that makes the news from this session, even though it made for a very good send-off indeed for the Conservatives.Tags: Christmas, David Cameron, Ed Balls, PMQs