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A soporific session

19 January 2011

3:16 PM

19 January 2011

3:16 PM

Labour are on the up. They strolled Oldham. They’ve recruited great armies of
Clegg’s defectors. And they’d win a majority if a general election were held tomorrow. There’s been a lot of excited talk in Westminster about Tom Baldwin, Labour’s new
communications attack-dog, coming in with his fangs bared and sharpening up their tactics. Well, it ain’t working so far, if PMQs is anything to go by. Ed Miliband had his dentures in today.
He was humourless, slow to react and sometimes inaudible. His questions didn’t resemble even the most basic PMQs battle-plan, namely, a pre-meditated onslaught culminating in a simple
powerful message presented in a memorable one-liner.

He asked the PM about the jobless totals and Cameron said he regretted the rise in youth unemployment but reminded us that under Labour the figure had soared by 40 percent.
‘Complacency!’ shouted Miliband for some reason. Presumably Tom had written it in big letters on his briefing paper. The same happened with ‘arrogant’. Nothing wrong with a
bit of toff-baiting but Miliband made no attempt to justify it or persuade us it might be fun to join in. He was preaching not teaching.

His best soundbite ‘the Tories have taken the “national” out of the NHS’ was only a quarter-good. It’s memorable but it could easily be a Conservative line about
shifting power from Whitehall to local communities. After his fifth question Ed fluffed his peroration by garbling the rat-a-tat of broken Tory promises and instead of rousing his backbenches to a
hooligan cheer he could barely muster a semi-whoop. And his final soundbite – ‘same old story, can’t trust the Tories’ – is a jangling half-rhyme botched together from two
clichés and a bit of string. Having stood up to Labour cheers he sat down to a barrage of Tories calling for ‘More!’

So Cameron had it pretty easy today. He was helped by well-whipped backbenchers asking useful questions about free schools, localism and cutting NHS bureaucracy. On high petrol prices he blamed the
last four increases on the Labour government. He explained that he’d scrapped the Future Jobs Fund because it cost a fortune, relied too much on public sector work and was useless: half the
participants returned to the dole after a month. Labour backbenchers harried him repeatedly on the NHS. Grahame M Morris came closest to scoring a hit. He suggested that the government was opening
up the NHS to private firms which had poured cash into the Tory war-chest. ‘Is that what he means by “we’re all in this together”?’ Cameron responded well by quoting a
similar commitment to private enterprise from Labour’s manifesto – ‘written by the opposition leader.’

Tony Lloyd, Labour MP for most of Manchester, lamented the chronic ill-health of his constituents and entreated the prime minister, in rather pompous tones, to ‘make a solemn and binding
promise that waiting times won’t go up.’ Cameron resisted the temptation to advise Mancunians to stop drinking, smoking, eating pies and shooting each other, and instead pointed out
that ‘health inequalities in Britain are as bad as in Victorian times.’  If we don’t reform ‘we’ll lag behind.’

This was one of the ropiest sessions in recent memory. Though Cameron batted Miliband to a standstill he didn’t bother to show a bit of brio or create a contrast between his optimistic dash
and Ed’s soggy blandness. When the Labour leader sat down Cameron lambasted him for ‘using the old feeble scripted lines he practises every week.’ You too, Dave.

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