Weak again. For the second session in a row Miliband was feeble at PMQs. He opened in
his quiet-assassin mode with a quickie question. ‘There are reports that the government is planning changes to housing benefit reforms. Are they?’ Clearly he meant to wrong-foot Cameron
by tempting him into admission which could be instantly disproved. But Cameron simply denied the suggestion and Miliband had no embarrassing disclosure to fire back with. Pretty duff tactics there.
He fared slightly better when he asked Cameron what advice he’d give to a family facing a 10 percent cut in housing benefit after the chief bread-winner had been unemployed for a year.
Cameron replied that unlimited benefits ‘are a serious disincentive to work.’ There were 37,000 Londoners on job-seekers allowance for over 12 months in that period 400,000 vacancies
had appeared in the capital. Miliband flared up at this. He shouted that the PM was about to put half a million out of work. ‘His policy is a complete shambles,’ he raged feebly. He sat
down to muted cheers.
As Milliband wilted, Bercow flourished. The Speaker used to be dogmatic and Roundheaded about house protocol but he’s become much more Cavalier, thank goodness. He lets things flow. His
interruptions are brief and infrequent. ‘Members must be calm, if not serene,’ he said today which by his standards is an outstanding gag. And he’s decided to let the PM stray
off-piste provided the digression is entertaining. Cameron had fun today with the leaked Labour memo offering Miliband top tips on how to triumph at PMQs. ‘It’s important to have a
cheer line,’ Cameron quoted, ‘that goes down well in the chamber. And you have to get to your feet looking like you’re seizing on something new.’
Poor Ed tried to appear to be enjoying this. He knew it was coming. He just didn’t know when and Dave deserves credit for holding back till his final question. Miliband couldn’t get a
fix on his opponent, knowing that at any moment he was about to be blown away by blasts of Tory mirth.
Three members were spotted today trying to join different parties. Kate Hoey (still apparently taking the Labour whip) applied for UKIP membership by urging Cameron not just to lobby for a smaller
EU budget but to tell the Brussels bureaucrazies that ‘We’re sorry’ but we aren’t paying our subs any more.
Angus Robertson, the fridge-sized leader of the SNP in Westminster, posed today as a Churchillian re-armer. He lamented the closure of Lossiemouth and the decline in Scotland’s defence
industries. This produced a dangerously waspish response from Cameron. ‘If we had an independent Scotland,’ snarled the PM, ‘you wouldn’t be flying planes, you’d be
flying by the seat of your pants.’
David Blunkett, with a face as red as the flag he hoisted over Sheffield town hall in the 1980s, made a peculiar speech apparently pleading for Yorkshire independence. He told us that if his county
were funded as munificently as Wales its budget would be £24bn. General bafflement greeted this. He finished by muttering something weird about ‘a white rose parliament.’ One
senses a clever and determined politician in the deathly grip of his dotage.