PMQs: Inflation down, crime down, performance down
With outings like this at the despatch box becoming a regular occurrence, the idea of Prime Minister Miliband is slowly becoming less absurd
By the time the Prime Minister got the chance to talk about some of the good news his government had received this week, he had already lost a muddled battle with an increasingly confident Leader of the Opposition.
“Unemployment down!” cried Dave. “Inflation down, crime down, borrowing down!” he correctly noted, to no avail.
The only thing darker than Miliband’s midnight blue tie were the bags under his solemn eyes.
Striking the right balance of exasperation and disappointment, Red Ed gently toyed with the “shambolic” Prime Minister for giving “dodgy offers” on energy prices, backing then losing his chief whip and crucially, for failing to grasp his job.
“He doesn’t do the detail, he made up the policy and he got caught out” - that one would have jarred on the Tory benches which are becoming increasingly vocal with their concern about the government machine and the inability to avoid government-by-crisis management.
One of the Prime Minister’s favourite tricks at his weekly interrogation is to bring along props such as leaked emails or briefing notes.
This week the stunt was pulled on him and it blew up nicely.
Plucking out a Tory HQ memo from last week describing when he was Energy Secretary, Miliband noted some minor but apparently significant detail about his own record and boxed the PM's ears with it.
Miliband argued the Conservative briefing document claimed the average dual price fuel bill fell by £110 when he was energy secretary. Under the coalition, it has risen by £200.
Dave came back at it eventually as soon as he got the chance, whining that the Energy Secretary turned Labour leader “didn’t stand up for the vested interests - he stuffed their pockets with cash.” But his argument would have irked the Guardianista's that Dave was once so keen to charm. He argued that low carbon policies introduced by Miliband would put up bills by around £179 on average.
Unfortunately for him, but to the much amusement of anyone watching, Cameron waited for jeers and shouts at the end of this flourish, forgetting that he still had to pretend he was trying to answer a question.
Cue a painful silence quickly filled with howls of derision and grim faces on the government front bench.
Looking like he was beginning to enjoy himself, in stark contrast to Cameron, Ed went into his off the cuff mode that makes him look dangerously human at times.
Whether it was mocking the Chancellor after his little difficulties on a Virgin train last week: “coming on to his favourite subject, the West Coast Mainline”, or teasing Justine Greening the reluctant DfID secretary: “she doesn’t really want to the job, but she’s down the end of the bench anyway,” Miliband was today’s clear winner.
And then the others got stuck in. Margaret Hodge MP awkwardly raised the fact that when Jimmy Carr was found to be avoiding tax, the PM swiftly condemned him. But what about Apple, Google, Facebook, eBay and Starbucks? Not a mention, said Hodge. Cameron conceded.
In questions on the independence of the BBC inquiry, the Leveson inquiry, his e-mails to Rebekah Brooks and more, Cameron was less that self-assured.
The Prime Minister was reduced to rattling off statistics in a way we have not seen the darkest days of Gordon’s tractor production days. By the time the he had got round to accusing Ed Miliband of avoiding the big issues, it could have been 2008.
“If he wants to swap places I’m very happy to do so” mocked Miliband when Cameron dodged yet another question.
With outings like this at the despatch box becoming a regular occurrence, the idea is slowly becoming less absurd.
Harry Cole in the UK Political Editor for The Commentator
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