As the economy bounces back it keeps smacking Ed Miliband in the face. At PMQs today he tried to pose as the people’s champion fighting fat-cat capitalism. He started with Royal Mail, which is now worth a billion more than when it was floated.
In hindsight, any privatisation can look like a Westminster mega-blunder or a Square Mile stitch-up. Miliband took the latter view. Referring to the clique of 16 ‘golden ticket’ investors, he asked why these lucky speculators had been allowed to flip their shares for an instant profit while the hard-working posties had been ordered to retain theirs for three years.
Cameron spotted the trick. Posties got free shares. The City paid hard cash. The PM praised the flotation for turning a commercial dead-horse into a ripping triumph.
‘Only the prime minister would want congratulations for losing a billion pounds,’ sniffed Miliband. Cameron countered that Miliband was ‘reduced to complaining about a government success.’
It was decent territory for Miliband but he needed a damaging revelation to wrong-foot the PM. He had nothing but a trace of bad air. ‘Everything about this privatisation stinks.’
Cameron had arrived hoping to link the opposition leader to Old Labour. Royal Mail played straight into his hands. He said Miliband was deploying the same arguments used by Mssrs Kinnock, Straw and Prescott to oppose the privatisations of the 1980s.
Why those three? Because their sons are now scouting for safe Labour seats.
‘Literally, it’s the same old Labour,’ said Cameron.
Bold tactic. And it may backfire since Cameron is hardly exempt from being caricatured as a Hooray parasite. But you can see the attraction. Turn the enemy’s deadliest weapon on himself, and portray Labour’s high command as a cabal of corrupt dynasts passing rotten boroughs down through the generations like bewigged toffs bequeathing valleys full of rickety serfs to their soft-cheeked and silky-palmed progeny.
Cameron’s attack on Miliband ended in a weird, control-freak spat with the Speaker.
The PM had decided to pooh-pooh Labour’s new guru, David Alexrod. This involved quoting him out of context. Cameron produced a leaked memo which he read out, with amusing stresses.
‘There’s a better future ahead of us,’ he quoted. ‘But we mustn’t look backward to the policies that put us in this mess in the first place.’
Gales of sarcastic laughter greeted this and as Cameron paused for breath, Mr Bercow got to his feet and berated some heckling corner-boys at the end of the chamber. Cameron sat down, feeling miffed. Then he piped up, ‘I hadn’t finished!’ from a seated position, thus interrupting the Speaker. This is lèse-majesté. It may even be treason. Bercow was furious. A cold grin prised his mouth apart, revealing two glinting rows of ferociously scrubbed gnashers.
‘In response to that,’ he glared, ‘the prime minster HAS finished and he can take it from me that he HAS finished.’
That was that. From the back benches, Cameron got some help over Royal Mail from the longest-serving MP, Sir Peter Tapsell. Normally the soul of eloquence, Sir Peter was so ill-focused and prolix today that MPs were starting to hail him as ‘the Blather of the House’. He rambled on for absolutely yonks about his role in the privatisation of gas in the 1980s. Then he enlarged upon Ed Miliband’s failure to grasp the nature of capital markets. And as yard upon yard of shoddy flannel spooled out of his mouth, even the snippy Mr Berkow looked on sadly, unwilling to intervene.
What a tragedy.
Being pitied by Berkow, I mean. Sir Peter will be back.