Cameron loses to Miliband, but beats the Speaker

The Leader of the opposition is on a roll and the Prime Minister’s bad week is getting worse writes our UK Political Editor Harry Cole

Thought it couldn't get any worse? Try Ed Miliband getting the better of you...again
Harry Cole
On 1 February 2012 12:59

With Cameron’s veto unravelling and the ongoing RBS mess, the Leader of the Opposition is having one of his best ever weeks in the job. Having mauled the PM yesterday with a withering put down that “the veto was just for Christmas”, many of Cameron’s own backbenches find themselves agreeing with the Labour leader, and their muted reactions today said it all.

Groans met the Prime Minister when he stood to declare that this government was the “toughest ever” on banking and bonuses. Given that the RBS boss Stephen Hester had his hand forced by the threat of a Labour-led vote in the Commons on his bonus, this just doesn’t cut the mustard. Fred Goodwin’s knighthood stripping may have bought the Prime Minister some time and good headlines last night, but an invigorated Leader of the Opposition was coming back for more.

Hypocrisy was today’s ground with plenty of allegations going each way. But Ed’s were the ones that will stick. The only thing worse than breaking a promise on clamping down on bonuses and bankers' pay is being in the government – the cabinet – that drew  up the plans and now washing your hands of it all. But no time for such semantics today. “Some might call it opposition, some might call it hypocrisy” roared the Prime Minister to no avail.

In the same breath as calling the PM a hypocrite, Ed resorted to the old class warfare line – that the cabinet “of millionaires” were out of touch. Given that he is worth over two million himself and that he was flanked by millionaires, Harriet Harman, the niece of the Countessof Longford,the whole attack was shameless. But in the world of TV headlines and clipped attack lines, it was another points win for Ed.

There were three dogs in this fight today and the Speaker, John Bercow weighed in to reprimand an obviously angry Prime Minister for, fairly, accusing Miliband of "hypocrisy". He intervened on procedure grounds for Cameron, but not Miliband and given their mutual loathing of each other, Cameron wasn’t going to let that one slip.

Playing the room by sarcastically pondering “what is the word, what is the word” in regard to someone who says something and does something else, there was a flash of form from the Prime Minister with his effortless mocking of both the Speaker and his main opponent. He may have had the best line of the day but it wasn’t enough on points for the win.

With Ed splitting his questions, again, he whipped up his backbenchers with a long list of opponents to health-care reform. As it so often does, the weekly duel descended into panto-esque tit for tat.  “Against the bill” they chanted, failing to mention that most of those organisations mentioned were also “against the formation of the NHS”.

Cameron came back before the end by putting Miliband and the Labour frontbench on the spot about tonight’s welfare cap bill. The “vacuum” and “hopeless” lines may well be true, but it was too late for the win.

Though they are on the wrong side of the public on welfare reform, Ed is on a roll and it was a bloody duel. Just what the doctor ordered.

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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