Ed Miliband started off with a soft question to which he already knew the answer at PMQs: ‘Does the PM agree with me that given the crisis ordinary families are facing in their living standards, MPs should not be given a pay rise many times more than inflation in 2015?’ The PM did agree, and offered some further thoughts on the situation. Then Miliband pushed him a bit further. He asked whether the Prime Minister was keen ‘to work with me to find a way on a cross-party basis to make Ipsa think again?’ This whole exchange was carried out to an amusingly eerie silence from backbenchers listening to their bosses denying them a pay rise. But the PM replied that ‘my door is always open’, and then the conciliatory stuff ended and the two men – and their MPs – started scrapping again.
Miliband referred to Cameron’s comments about tax in his Spectator interview, which Labour already sees as a gift. But Cameron hit back by arguing that the Conservatives had the plan, when Labour doesn’t:
‘The British public know this – if you want to sort out the cost of living, If you want to help families, you need more jobs, you need more growth, you need a long-term economic plan – we’ve got one, he hasn’t!’
Aside from this usual we’ve-got-a-plan-and-you-don’t ding-dong, what was most striking about PMQs was that the PM managed to have an exchange with Ed Balls, who was gleefully performing a pointing-down hand gesture. Balls was clearly doing his normal thing of trying to wind the PM up (how quickly he has forgotten his hatred of the shouty, tribal chamber that he professed after the Autumn Statement last week), but the PM was ready, and reminded Balls about his own bad brush with heckling, adding that ‘he can dish it out but he can’t take it!’. But he also had a go at Balls, still gesticulating wildly, for his economic plans. It’s striking that at a session that is supposed to be about two party leaders tussling, the PM turns up with lines on the Shadow Chancellor. This just shows what an asset the Tories believe Ed Balls is to their own hopes as a party.