Easy-peasy at PMQs today. All Ed Miliband had to do was slice open the Coalition’s
wounds on Europe and dibble his claws in the spouts of blood. But his attack had no sense of bite or surprise. And his phraseology was lumpen. He used all six questions gently stroking the issue of
Europe rather than driving a nail through it.
He asked about growth. He asked about the ’22 committee. He asked about Nick Clegg’s "smash-and-grab" phrase to describe the repatriation of powers. He asked about the social chapter. He
asked about everything he could think of, and it was clear he couldn’t think of the right thing to ask. At the climax he sounded like a nursery-assistant scolding Cameron for "pleading
not leading" on Europe. Desperately flaccid oratory.
The desire to seem statesmanlike did for him. He was simply overwhelmed by a barrage of skilful, and thoroughly unprincipled, parliamentary tactics. Cameron was very well-focused today and
perfectly shameless in dodging Miliband’s specific questions. He’d coined some decent sound-bites too. And the scale and the direction of his attack were entirely unpredictable. This was one of the
best defences I’ve seen Cameron mount.
His nastiness, his reserves of personal malice — so clearly part of his character — helped him out here too. He called Miliband a "complete mug" for denying recently that
Brussels has too much power. He jeered at him for wanting to add £100bn to the deficit. He hauled out his favourite Miliband blunder, an admission that Britain’s possible membership of the
Euro would depend on "how long I’m prime minister for". Scorning the talk of a Coalition split, he said, "the division is between the Labour leader and reality". He asked
us to imagine Mr Miliband at today’s Euro-summit being mocked so heartily that the meeting would finish before the laughter did.
And Cameron indulged in a piece of political chicanery that almost amounted to lying. Having noted Labour’s opposition to an increase in IMF funding, the PM elevated this into an official
policy of resigning from the IMF altogether. "They want to join the Euro and to leave the IMF. It’s not France they want to be like. It’s Monaco."
Miliband sounded glum throughout the session. Now, truly walloped by Cameron, he sat down looking glummer. "Encore!" jeered the Tories, reminding him of his support on Monday for
President Sarkozy’s attack on the prime minister. The rediscovery of loyalty by the Conservative backbenches was of great assistance to the PM today. As were Labour’s rank and file.
Demoralised, like their leader, the opposition MPs behaved like a group of zombies ordered by Tory high command to make David Cameron look good. Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) tried to
revive his troubles from last week over the Regional Growth Fund. Cameron gently slapped her down with the news that the fund would soon produce 100,000 jobs.
One of Labour’s prettiest new members, Gloria de Piero, rose to a chorus of polite cheers, (and quite a few blatant "phwaoorr!"s) and asked Cameron about his appeal to female
voters. Months have been spent on this bit of Cameron’s image and he duly unfurled an impressive menu of targeted tax-breaks and nursery help for women. Plus a pledge that foreign aid will
save the lives of 15,000 mothers in childbirth around the world.
Labour’s member for Sheffield Central, Paul Blomfield, asked Cameron about boosting British manufacturing. And the PM accepted yet another chance to read off a list of successes, this time in
industry. When Heather Wheeler (Con, South Derbyshire) brought up free schools, Cameron eagerly highlighted Labour’s flipfloppery on the issue.
"What a bunch of hypocrites!" he sneered. Certainly this wasn’t a dignified showing from the prime minister. But if this is how a Tory split feels, he probably can’t wait for the next