PMQs: Confused Miliband fiddles as Athens burns

Ed Miliband gave another shoddy display as leader of the opposition, blatantly evading the issue of Labour and the strikes.

What Miliband fears to talk about
Harry Cole
On 29 June 2011 12:31

For the first time in three weeks, Prime Ministers Question time was dominated by the questions Ed Miliband did not, could not and dare not ask.

The TV news channels were showing the weekly duel in split screen format, with the other side of the screen dominated by footage of Athens burning at the behest of Greek trade unions and Leftist allies protesting against cuts and austerity.

But strikes, money, reforms and debt were the last thing that a Leader of the Opposition firmly in the pocket of Britain’s own trade unions could summon up the courage to engage with.

After two weeks of randomly selected, detailed questions designed to unsettle the Prime Minister, Miliband went again on details, though this time all six of his allotted questions were on the NHS. Cameron was prepared but not as well briefed as his opponent, who was in fact so well briefed he already knew the answers before he asked them.

First and foremost, the role of the Leader of the Opposition is to hold the government to account, and to play politics only as a secondary matter. The fact that Miliband already knew all of the answers to the questions that he asked, and patronisingly tried to rub this in Cameron’s face, proves he has not grasped the basics of his role.

He is doing his  constitutional position a disservice by not raising legitimate questions that he wants to know more about, and instead desperately trying to score points for a temporary reprieve to the questions surrounding his leadership.

All everyone really wanted to talk about is Greece, and the impending industrial unrest in the UK.

But poor old Ed was stuck in a trap. Many in his party do not support his newly formulated view that the public sector strikes are wrong, and Cameron cruelly slammed him on this with a withering put-down that Miliband “could not talk about Greece because he wanted to turn the UK into Greece”.

We learnt nothing new from the leaders’ duel today. It was a wasted day and wasted chance for Miliband to hold the government to account.

The elephant in the room was there for all to see, except for Miliband himself. Though he did score some points, there was no way this could be a win for him, given how blatantly constrained he was by his muddled and confused dependency on the unions.

The only person to have a worse outing than the Leader of the Opposition was the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow.

Interrupting the Prime Minister in his stride while critiquing his opposite number, Bercow shut down the Prime Minister mid-sentence. The flash of anger in Cameron’s eyes was real and there was outrage on the government benches.

You rarely see the Prime Minister speechless, and if looks could have killed...

Bercow is on thin ice, he is dependent on the votes of Labour members to stay in his job, yet seems to be making no effort to shore up his position with the Tories.

Cameron, unable to hide his anger, succinctly asked in his reply to the next question:

"I hope it's in order Mr Speaker to talk about Labour's record."

Overall, Miliband may have just about saved his neck for another week through a now familiar display of political cowardice and shallow opportunism.

But after the dismal performance of the Speaker, he may take some small comfort from the fact that he’s not the only one threatened with the chop.

Harry Cole is the UK Political Editor for The Commentator. He tweets at @MrHarryCole and is the News Editor for the popular Guido Fawkes blog.

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