Crafty old Ed. After a week on death row, he was expected to arrive at PMQs and do the
decent thing. Drink down a foaming cup of hemlock and depart the political stage for good. But Ed is made of sterner stuff than many of us realised. He was cunning, passionate and articulate today
and his performance will have steadied the nerves of his anxious troops. It all began oddly. As soon as Miliband stood up he was greeted by a slightly over-done chorus of cheers from his
backbenchers. This absurdity prompted a burst of satirical catcalling from the Tories. They knew this would be fun. Cameron would run rings around Dead Ed.
Miliband’s team of researchers have earned their dough this week. They’ve winkled out an earth-shattering facticule that 7,000 cancer victims stand to lose £94 a week if the
reform bill currently passing through the house becomes law. Clearly Cameron hadn’t anticipated this attack and he ducked it by denying that Ed was right. ‘He should check his facts
before he comes to the House and chickens out of welfare reform.’ The snippy, waspish tone is always a hint that the PM is about to lose it. Not just his temper. The bout too. Miliband quoted
a senior source from Macmillan Cancer Support. ‘It’s crucial that patients are not forced to return to work before they’re ready,’ he said, hinting that heartlessness and
Toryism are synonymous.
The two leaders continued to trade blows, each claiming that the other hadn’t grasped the policy details. Then Cameron remembered all of a sudden that he needed to sound a bit compassionate.
‘These are horrible things to have to discuss,’ he mumbled crossly. But his inner bruiser got the better of his inner parson and he fell, inevitably it seemed, for Ed’s deadly
bait. He accused Milliband of using the issue as a smokescreen for Labour’s internal divisions.
Even now the news bulletins are leading on what Ed said next: ‘What an absolute disgrace to describe cancer patients as a smokescreen.’ And when the Tories noisily reproved this tactic
he simply repeated it. ‘It’s a disgrace,’ he said, pausing to let us feel the ignominy towards which we were being dragged by his shameless opponents, ‘it’s a disgrace
that Conservative members are shouting when we’re talking about cancer.’
He’d done it. Milliband had survived his own funeral. And he’d created the impression that a Conservative PM is the kind of chap who sees unemployment people dying of cancer and
expresses his condolences while stealing their wallets. In fact the one using cancer as a smokescreen today was the devious and not-so-dead Ed.