Ed Milliband took up his position at PMQs today flanked by Caroline Flint and Ed Balls.
Between a rock and a hard face. His proximity to so many colleagues who wish him ill can hardly have helped his performance. He was like a stale doughnut. Layers of stodge surrounding a hole in the
His battle-plan wasn’t entirely useless. He wanted to tempt the prime minister into foolish speculation about the causes of last quarter’s poor growth figures. Cameron stood up and
admitted that the numbers were pretty lousy whether the weather were blamed or not. And that whether-the-weather left Miliband completely stuffed. He’d expected Cameron to shift at least some
of the blame onto the snow and thus ushered in a blizzard of jokes about skating on thin ice and building a recovery that melts into slush. But Cameron had wrongfooted him, quite by accident, and
Miliband foundered and couldn’t recover.
Not that he had much to recover with. His next question was weakly phrased and tactically idiotic. ‘Is he going to change strategy in any way to get our economy moving?’ Christine
Bleakley would have asked a tougher question than that. Miliband moved onto insults. He asked Cameron to ‘put aside his arrogance’, although he hadn’t considered the possibility
that calling Cameron arrogant is like calling Tony Blair a pacifist. It’s glib, dated and not terribly accurate.
He then opted for the risky strategy of drawing attention to Labour’s unique contribution to our public finances. Hard to believe it, but he actually boasted about the bust. ‘The
economy was growing when we left office.’ Cameron made merry and said he loved ‘this theory that there was a golden inheritance from the previous government.’
For his final trick Miliband tried to contrast his boldness in appointing Ed Balls with Cameron’s weakness in sacking Andy Coulson. The PM came straight back at him – if Balls was such
a great idea why not appoint him in the first place?
Laughter silenced him. By the time he sat down Caroline Flint was looking daggers while Ed Balls, in his imagination at least, was fondling one and wondering how soon he might plunge it between his
leader’s shoulder-blades. Miliband’s enemies will call this a dismal performance. His friends will call it a typical performance. Either way, failure is now his standard service.
Cameron handled backbench questions with a more emollient tone than usual. He met insults with arguments and catcalls with facts and analysis. The self-satisfied delusions of the opposition were
typified by Ian Davidson (the Labour Co-operative member for somewhere or other) who decided that he was the man to take on the PM, to wrestle him into a corner on the economy and expose him as a
heartless toffee-nosed parasite. Cameron must have quaked in his boots when he heard his upbringing described as ‘economically certain’. Then came the killer question. ‘Is youth
unemployment a price worth paying?’ While researching this carefully planned ambush by reading the prime minister’s biography, Mr Davidson evidently spent so much time slavering over
the Eton stuff and the Bullingdon business that he didn’t get to the bit where Cameron takes a first class honours degree in politics and economics. Nor did he find out whether youth
unemployment was an issue that might embarrass his opponent. It merely embarrassed Mr Davidson. Youth unemployment, said the PM, was higher at the end of Labour’s boom than at the start. He
magnanimously asked his questioner to ditch the jeers and work together on solutions. He’s a ‘co-operative’ MP after all.
Cameron dealt equally smoothly with false friends on his own side. Jacob Rees Mogg, the youngest dinosaur in nature, stood up and gave a self-parodying, attention-seeking donkey-voiced
impersonation of a lunatic Thatcherite in full cry. ‘When you set an economic course,’ he bellowed, ‘you should stick to it. There is no alternative!’ Labour threw
themselves into ecstasies. Cameron tried to calm the chamber with gentle deprecation. ‘My honourable friend has a big following in all parts of the House.’ Rees Mogg is a sucker who
gives succour to his enemies and his foghorn antics were Labour’s only cause of happiness today. My guess is that the whips are at work right now on a gag Mogg strategy.