Ed Miliband had fun with his dressing-up box today. At PMQs he tried on all kinds of disguises in the hope of scaring the government.
First Europe and the EU budget negotiations. Miliband’s approach here is full of cunning and dishonesty. He called for ‘real terms reduction’ even though he knows full well that a freeze is the best the government can hope for. But by suggesting an impossible tactic he can claim that David Cameron has missed a trick.
‘Rank opportunism,’ declared the PM, ‘and the country will see through it.’ He reminded us of Labour’s record at the negotiating table seven years ago. Back then Ed Milband and his colleagues were happy to pitchfork great flapping bales of cash onto the EU money-pyre. Worse still, they threw away half the UK’s rebate like a gin-soaked duke giving his chauffeur the Rolls-Royce as a birthday present.
Yet there was a certain magnificence to Miliband’s buccaneering hypocrisy today. You almost had to admire it in the way you admire Stalin for signing the 1940 pact with Hitler. It’s rare for history to produce such a seething confluence of cowardice, fraud and short-term calculation.
Next Miliband tried to pose as a wise eco-investor. The problem the government faces here is simple. It’s wind. Everyone in the UK knows that it gets pretty blowy outdoors but devising a means of using stiff breezes as a power source is proving rather tricky. And the Coalition is shifting in different directions. Energy secretary, Ed Davey, says he’s ‘gung-ho’ about wind-farms. But junior energy minister, John Hayes, has declared that ‘enough is enough’.
Both views have merit. Most of us are in favour of wind power. It’s the turbines we don’t like. Huge tracts of rural Britain are now despoiled with these weird three-pronged CND badges, clinging to hillsides and moorland ridges, spinning their arms in useless circles, like platoons of stranded aliens trying to attract the attention of the mother-ship. Yet it’s easy see why the twirling eco-monsters are so popular with inmates at Westminster. They’re exactly like politicians. They look impressive, they do practically nothing, they cost billions and they’re virtually impossible to get rid of.
Ed Miliband made the most of the government’s difficulties. He claimed that the energy market had been thrown into turmoil by the rift between gung-ho Ed Davey and enough-is-enough John Hayes.
‘Who speaks for the government?’
Cameron ignored this. Instead he flipped into celebratory mood. Today, he said, was a terrific day to talk about energy because excellent tidings have just arrived from the Land of the Rising Sun. Hitachi is about to lavish twenty billion smackers on brand new nuclear infra-structure which – let’s hope – won’t be built on the edge of a tremor-prone tectonic plate.
Finally, Ed Miliband tried on his Tarzan costume. The mop-headed Tory dinosaur, known as Lord Heseltine, had earlier published a report criticising the Coalition for lacking a growth strategy. Michael Heseltine is one of those optimistic grandees who believe that every government should have a casino arm which can ‘intervene in’, (ie, ‘gamble other people’s money on’), businesses that appear bankable to bureaucrats. Miliband took up this barmy cause.
‘The prime minister’s answer is deregulation,’ he said, ‘but it isn’t enough.’
Cameron grew impatient. ‘Frankly,’ he said menacingly, ‘we can sit here all afternoon trading quotes,’ (and at this point hungry Tories began glancing nervously at their watches), ‘but this is an excellent report.’
He declared himself in complete accord with Lord Heseltine. Strategy was over-centralised. Manufacturing had fallen behind. The regions were losing out. He added that Hezza had praised the Coalition for its progress on education and unemployment. As for Ed Miliband’s attempt to champion the King of the Jungle, he offered this.
‘You’re no Michael Heseltine.’
And he said it with his voice turned to its frostiest setting. He is of course quite wrong. Miliband is well up to Hezza-standard when it comes to knifing rivals in the back.