PMQs: Blood on the tracks for Miliband

The first PMQs of the new year did little to help the embattled Labour leader writes our UK Political Editor Harry Cole

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Unwanted sympathy lies ahead and Ed has no reverse gear
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Harry Cole
On 11 January 2012 14:06

The most dangerous time for any political figure is when they cross a line and suddenly the public and even the media begin to feel sorry for them. Thankfully, even after his dire relaunch yesterday, we are not yet at that stage with Ed Miliband.

The farcical comedy period of the Leader of the Opposition’s tenure is still ongoing. There was a lot of speculation that Cameron would go easy on his beleaguered opponent today, and Labour insiders stressed the need for a win in order to quell the growing movement against the Labour leader.

Opening in the comfort zone of train-fares it was if the Prime Minister could barely be bothered, answering Ed’s first question about why companies put their fares up so much this year, with barely more than a few words:

"The power to do that was given by the last Labour government."

The quick flash caught Ed off his guard and left him stuttering Mr. Speaker, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Speaker. It wasn’t a great start, and true to form Ed claimed the Prime Minister was “wro-ang”

The Prime Minister seemed confident of his facts: "I know the Labour leader had a difficult start to the year. But I am afraid he is wrong." If this was Cameron pulling his punches, then what would a full assault have looked like?

Miliband’s voice always gives away any inner turmoil, by the end of this third question it had dropped, and he was left just repeating himself and declaring the PM ‘wrong, wrong’.

In a beautiful irony, not long into the lunch break that followed the battle, the Campaign for Better Transport and transport experts declared that it was in fact Mr Miliband who was wrong. The only reason fares were able to rise at such a rapid rate was due to legislation put down by the last government. The cap on fare rises that they put on was only for one year, incidentally an election year, but that detail was conveniently forgotten by Miliband and his post-match spinners.

Hardly what you could describe as a competent performance on an issue that Labour should have sewn up. In splitting his questions, Ed had time to compose himself with lots of deep breaths before round two. He bought himself some slack by playing the statesman card, and uniting with the Prime Minister in order to save the union et cetera. Though it must be said that if this was really about Scotland’s rather cheap political posturing, then why didn’t he ask the questions on the subject first?

Cameron’s “neverendum” line was dire but it was too late by then for it to matter.

Other notable highlights included some planted questions from the floor about energy bills. Labour’s idea to force providers to automatically put old people on lowest tariff is a good one, but why didn't Ed do it while he was Secretary of State for Energy.

The Tories were openly cheering and jeering in comedic fashion. Ed is a laughing stock. Wounding for a leader and all roads lead to the lethal sympathy zone eventually. A grim look on the faces of Harman and Cooper, flanking their leader, said it all.

The heat was taken out of the exchanges by the split tactic, but Ed badly needed a win today. He did not get it. 

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

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