PMQs was very messy for David Cameron. It was never going to be fun coming after Maria Miller’s resignation (although it would have been a lot less fun if Miller hadn’t gone). But Cameron made things worse in place by making strange comments that seemed to suggest that he thought Ed Miliband should have called for Miller’s head. He said:
‘I have to say it is rather extraordinary, the right hon. Gentleman now coming here, having not said she should resign and saying she should have resigned. I think it shows all the signs of someone seeing a political bandwagon and wanting to jump on it! He is jumping on this bandwagon after the whole circus has left town.’
This sounded strange. Why is the Prime Minister scolding the Labour leader for not calling for Maria Miller’s head. Then the PM made some sarky remarks about Miliband chasing soundbites and playing politics. Of course Miliband did, but perhaps he was basing his behaviour on the David Cameron playbook, given the Tory leader made such political capital from expenses in 2009.
Labour afterwards also reminded us that frontbencher Thomas Docherty had called for Miller to go on Friday, so the party has been pushing for her demise all along. A party source said that Miliband didn’t repeat the call himself because he ‘wanted to focus on the economy’ and ‘he wanted to see if David Cameron did the right thing’.
But today was not a win for Labour and here’s why. In spite of the PM flailing, in spite of the messy briefing over whether an emissary from Number 10 was indeed sent to at least suggest to Maria Miller that she should think about stepping down (Number 10 will only say that this was her own decision and sources’ evasiveness in dealing with this question tells us everything we need to know about the answer), and in spite of the mess that this has provided the Opposition to feast on, it doesn’t benefit Ed Miliband. Punching the expenses bruise hurts all parliamentary parties, not just the Tories. It benefits Ukip, not Labour.
Labour benefits from a government cock-up, for sure. But if it predicates its strategy and its good mood on things going wrong, whether they be a Cabinet minister stepping down after a Number 10 shambles, or an unfortunate bingo poster that still advertises popular measures in the Budget, then the party remains at sea. It must convince voters that it is the credible alternative to the government that Ed Miliband at the height of the mess called a ‘shower’.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.