PMQs: Back to the Ed of old as Miliband stumbles through
Even David Cameron was left hoping "the England football team are better at putting the ball in the back of the net" as Ed wasted another week at the despatch box, writes our UK Political Editor Harry Cole
Europe is burning, Syrians are being butchered and Ed Miliband cuts through the fudge with six questions tantamount to Westminster navel gazing.
Just once a week since Tony Blair altered the format in 1997, the Leader of the Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition has the chance to directly challenge the Prime Minister on great matters of state. Ed Miliband has become pretty good at this political pugilism in recent months, but today he reverted to his very worst mumbling and stumbling, rehashed political attacks compounded with the terrible delivery of lines that may have sounded just wonderful in the mirror.
Riding into battle, Miliband clearly thought the day would be his, but with a simple piece of paper the Prime Minister cut the horse from beneath him mid-charge.
Neither Miliband nor any watchers were expecting the PM to produce a letter from his independent adviser Sir Alex Allan stating, "I cannot usefully add to facts" by launching an inquiry into Jeremy Hunt and the much prolonged BSkyB affair. This was like manna from heaven for the Tory benches and visibly stumped Labour.
If you look at the actual exchange of letters, Allan’s words are a little more vague:
"The fact that there is an on-going judicial Inquiry probing and taking evidence under oath means that I do not believe that I could usefully add to the facts in this case though I remain available should circumstances change or new evidence emerge."
However in the rough and tumble of the bout, pesky details matter little.
Ed was caught off guard and tried to bring in some memos about and other props and digs, like “the part time chancellor”, in an attempt to pull this one back. But he was on the back foot for the rest of the time he spent pitched up at the despatch box.
Labour spent the remainder of the afternoon's session cocking up the allegations that Jeremy Hunt had misled the House. Taking their lead from Ed, up popped a variety of non-entities that only come out of the woodwork to read the odd planted question. All of them failed to nail the point that rather than Hunt’s pre-quasi-judicial memo being the problem, the fact that he told the House that he had no unofficial contact with Newscorp was a fib.
He was not just communicating with Newscorp through official channels but rather was texting in the most colloquial terms with the media giant's shady lobbyist. However, by then it was all too late.
Even some on Ed’s own benches looked pained when he sealed his defeat with an horrendous attempt to steal Cameron’s greatest ever PMQs line - the first one he ever used against Blair - “You were the future once.”
The terrible delivery of the famous line was cringeworthy cherry on top of the cake that failed to rise.
Accepting he was up against it, Cameron certainly knew he had won. Gone was the snappy shouting, instead a calm put down: “well I do hope the England football team are better at putting the ball in the back of the net." The government benches screamed for more.
The Prime Minister won a tough outing today, but tomorrow is his turn at Leveson. Let's not get too cocky yet, Dave...
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