PMQs: Uh Oh. Pre-Leveson reality check for Ed

PMQs started with some words about flooding but with the floodgates of Leveson held at bay for twenty four hours, other matters came into play, writes Harry Cole.

Less comedy Ed
Harry Cole
On 28 November 2012 16:00

There was a large regulatory shaped elephant in the room from the word go at this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions. With the fallout from Leveson (read potential end of a free press in the uk) sitting heavy, our Parliamentarians decided to have a bun fight about getting people off benefits and back into work.

Clearly not realising how emotive this issue is with real people who go to work and pay tax and don’t like scroungers, the leader of the opposition decided, in a moment of strategic brilliance, to criticise the notion of trying to get people back into work.

What followed was one of those gloriously incomprehensible “stat offs”, where the two leaders threw figures backwards and forwards to each other that both apparently proved the other one to be an ass and unfit for government. “Once again, he’s completely wrong and let me give him the figures”, et cetera.

The problem with these sorts of bouts is that these days you can look at snapshots and get almost any figure you want, but Ed certainly edged it on points and whining.

Fair enough, based on the fact that his chosen figures looked terrible, he made his points. They would have looked just as bad and spoken for themselves without the Labour leader having to prove he can do maths by s-p-e-l-l-i-n-g o-u-t the point that two out of 100 is a rate of two percent.

“Reality” was Ed’s word of the day and boy did he push it. I lost count at well over a dozen uses of it. “I’ll tell him the reality... and that is the reality.”

Reality, reality, reality. 

Ironically Ed was winning when reality bit. His favourite idea is that the PM loses his temper and thus the British public should replace him with a wet dish cloth. Of course, he, oh so humbly, submits himself for consideration as just such a replacement. “Calm down” he crowed almost doing a small wee of excitement that the PM had expressed some exasperation with his hectoring and lecturing.

He built up to his crescendo, the cheers of his own backbenchers deafening him to reality. And then, as ever, he fluffed it. The final flourish was split and the camera cut to a shot of the Prime Minister laughing in Ed’s face. After last week’s mauling, a win was in Ed’s sight, but it was reality that won the day.

The temper line works once in a blue moon, but to fall back on it every week, well, weakens it and, in reality, Cameron was laughing at his opponent.

In the end the "reality" did not match the script, however much he wanted it to. Labour lobby fodder were clapping the fact that Ed Miliband is annoying and Ed Balls is irritating.                     

Personally, I'm not sure that is a winning line. However this is all skin deep: the real story today was that Ed sided with benefit scroungers against hard working taxpayers.

The Prime Minister will be laughing a lot harder when that chicken comes home to roost. By the way, if you thought today was fun, just wait for that small matter of Leveson on Thursday...

Harry Cole is the UK Political Editor for The Commentator. He tweets at @MrHarryCole where you can catch up on his musings as well as his work for the Guido Fawkes blog

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