Well, that was an easy Prime Minister’s Questions for David Cameron, wasn’t it? Sometimes the PM just turns up for work and knocks it out of the park. It helped, of course, that for once he had his own team cheering him along, with backbencher after backbencher leaping up to ask loyal questions. The whips will be toasting a win in their office this afternoon.
The Prime Minister had some very good retorts to Ed Miliband indeed. If Labour had a good week on welfare last week, the happy feelings will have evaporated today as Cameron managed to ridicule them not just on the detail of their spending pledges – while hinting that he’s not quite as open to movement on pensions spending as she might have hoped – but also on their attitude. He reminded the Chamber of Ed Balls’ comments last week: ‘Do I think the last Labour government was profligate, spent too much, had too much national debt – no I don’t think there’s any evidence for that’.
He also made sure that today’s good jobs news wasn’t missed, reading out the details for all to hear, then using Labour’s groans as a sign that they didn’t like hearing good news.
And when Miliband got personal, quoting Andrew Bridgen’s Mail on Sunday attack, the PM bowed his head. Miliband looked as though he was recovering a little as he read from this backbench attack. But the PM had clearly prepared for this as well. He reminded Miliband that David Blunkett had described Labour under his leadership as ‘literally going nowhere’, adding:
‘He hasn’t even got on the aeroplane because he has not got a clue.’
But hang on a second. Sure, the PM won the knockabout at Prime Minister’s Questions. But it’s easy to remember the later exchanges and forget how the session started. Which would be a particularly bad mistake today as the Labour leader decided to open his questions on Syria. There are two things worth noting here. The first is that it has become very unusual for an Opposition leader to disagree substantively with a Prime Minister on foreign policy in the way Miliband did today. He made it very clear that his party was highly sceptical about the value of arming the Syrian rebels, saying:
‘But on the supply of arms… given that Russia is prepared to send more arms to the Syrian government, does the Prime Minister think it is at all realistic for that tipping strategy to work?’
The second important point is that these exchanges were noisier than debates on foreign policy normally are. Backbenchers, particularly those from the Labour party, were loudly disagreeing with the Prime Minister.
So Cameron may well have won today’s Prime Minister’s Questions. His backbenchers will likely be in a jolly good mood as a result. But those first few questions from Miliband are the only ones of lasting significance, and they demonstrate that a worrying dividing line has opened up in politics.
The next Spectator Debate on 24 June will be debating the motion ‘Assad is a war criminal. The West must intervene in Syria’ with Malcolm Rifkind, Andrew Green, Douglas Murray and more. Click here to book tickets.