Christmas is excellent news for a Labour opposition. The season of goodwill throws rich and poor into sharp relief. Red-faced aldermen gather at loaded tables to gobble up roast goose and plum-duff. And afterwards they throw sixpences at starving chimney-sweeps who scrabble for crusts of bread in the snow. At least that’s how it should be. But Labour is in trouble this year. A dearth of bad news has gripped the country. There’s a chronic shortage of shortages. And the lack of a serious crisis is reaching crisis proportions.
Ed Miliband is suffering. He looked positively nauseous as he stood up at PMQs and applauded the ‘welcome’ fall in joblessness.
‘More!’ shouted the Tories. Miliband’s lips curled queasily. Forcing out his words, he acknowledged that employment was beneficial to individuals and their families. Then he tried to kick the economy’s tyres. He said it was a part-time recovery for a full-time workforce. His problem here is that the world’s finest election strategist would struggle to turn this point into a government-toppling sound-bite.
‘Vote Labour for extra shifts, including Saturday lunchtimes and Wednesday afternoons.’
Cameron rebuffed all his questions with screeds of happy economic news. Job totals are rising across the board, even among women, the young and the long-term unemployed. Miliband had been praying for bad news from each of those tricky sectors. A Transylvanian air has settled over him. Only darkness can revive his fortunes.
He sharply criticised the Coalition for failing to meet its predictions on deficit reduction. But he hasn’t pursued this line to its conclusion. Labour called for extra borrowing. And the Coalition delivered it. So the Coalition has proved Labour right. And Miliband can’t make that argument for fear of identifying himself as a credit junkie.
His questions were notably terse and narrow today. Cameron by contrast couldn’t stop babbling away as he praised himself for his tough decisions and his commitment to a long-term plan.
‘What’s this?’ he asked.
This being Yuletide there were some turkey ticklers. Referring to Ed Balls, Cameron said, ‘You don’t need it to be Christmas to know when you’re sitting next to a turkey.’
‘That was a turkey of an answer,’ said Milliband, a riposte that pinged straight back and superglued itself to its author.
Gordon Marsden wanted to lay on the Dickensian sentimentality. He suggested that Cameron should ‘spare a thought for the half a million’ afflicted by his benefit reforms when he sits down to Christmas lunch. The moment was ruined by Marsden’s decision to add the word ‘chillax’ to his portrait of a heartless Tory PM. Clive Betts pursued the same point with more toxic materials. He mentioned a school in his constituency which has now opened its very own food bank. At a recent visit he met a 15-year-old girl who hadn’t eaten all weekend.
‘How does the prime minister expect her to fulfil her educational potential?’
Food banks seem to drain all the colour from Cameron’s face. He looks like a nun about to give a sex education class. ‘We have to make sure we protect the income levels of the poorest,’ he said with shifty blandness.
He ended the session with a brand new sound-bite. It’s not especially witty memorable or exciting. But it may prove highly durable because it neatly unites a political thought with a public perception.
‘The economy’s getting stronger,’ said Cameron. ‘Labour is getting weaker.’
Lynton Crosby just earned his Christmas bonus.Tags: David Cameron, Ed Balls, Ed Miliband, PMQs