PMQs: Lines drawn for 2015 - 'strivers' vs. 'scroungers'
Over the next three years the Tories will present themselves as the party of strivers to Labour’s party of scroungers, while Labour will employ the age-old class war tactics
If you are reading this then it means the world didn’t end during PMQs at 12 minutes past 12 o’clock, and perhaps more impressively that you managed to survive the apocalypse-worthy jokes about what is, essentially, the date.
Nonetheless, the significance of today’s PMQs should not be understated; this lunchtime saw the dividing lines well and truly drawn for the run up to the 2015 election. And if this is anything to go by, a brutal battle it will be.
Ed Miliband’s party has had little choice but to fall into the Chancellor’s carefully placed Autumn Statement benefits trap. By refusing to back the government’s welfare cuts the Prime Minister was able to say of his opposite number: “we stand up for people who work, he only stands up for people who claim”. Expect those words to be at the heart of the Tory campaign machine over the next three years.
Miliband responded by echoing Diane Abbott with his accusation that George Osborne is “trying to play divide and rule”. Vacuous as that may sound his line that the Tories “hit people they never meet and whose lives they will never understand” will resonate with a core group of voters. It is an incendiary attack line that you can bet we will see again and again.
Dave struggled with Ed’s fiery rhetoric, boiling over once more at Ed Balls’s incessant heckling as he told him: “I’m surprised the Shadow Chancellor is shouting again. We learnt last week that like bullies across the world he can dish it out but he can’t take it. He never learns”. Really it is the PM who never learns. Responding to Cameron’s loss of cool the leader of the opposition went for the jugular with the poison-tipped question: “have you wrecked a restaurant recently?” Flashman would have been proud.
The PM can, however, take heart from the knowledge that the stats back him up. Miliband’s repeated line that the Tories are hurting the poorest while cutting taxes to the rich is simply factually incorrect. Cameron rightly reminded him that the Coalition has taken two million out of tax, halved income tax for low earners, while the richest are paying more in tax than they did under Gordon Brown. This is the graph that the Tories should be using as a campaign poster in the months and years ahead.
At times Ed’s increasingly erratic hand gestures meant it seemed as if he were summoning a rain god of some kind, and Dave could certainly have done with a cooling off as he again blustered at Balls: “the Shadow Chancellor is not able to keep his mouth shut for longer than five seconds”.
Westminster mischief makers made much of the fact that Maria Miller was stood near the Speaker rather than her usual place on the frontbench, Justine Greening admirably filled Andrew Lansley’s space next to Nick Clegg with a face like she’d trodden in something, and Andy Slaughter read out his question with the self-respect of a QVC salesman.
Today’s PMQs should be remembered as a prelude of what is to come. Over the next three years the Tories will present themselves as the party of strivers to Labour’s party of scroungers, while Labour will employ the age-old class war tactics of out-of-touch Tories and a divided, two (not one) nation Britain. Bring it on.
Alex Wickham is a reporter at the Guido Fawkes website. He tweets at @WikiGuido
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