Part of being Prime Minister is winning the respect of your opponents. At times in recent weeks I’ve been impressed by David Cameron, who – especially over Libya – has shown a strong Prime Ministerial streak. Today though he was at his very worst. Rude, crude and crass. And yet strangely at the same time he was pulling some of his punches.
A bizarre performance to say the least.
Ed Miliband, who I’ve often accused of failing to land a killer punch, may have found a style that suits him better today. The Labour leader hit Cameron with a double whammy of attacks over university fees and police numbers that made the PM look evasive, shifty and poorly briefed all at the same time. Perhaps all of these weeks when we’ve wondered why Cameron goes on the attack we’ve given the wrong diagnosis. Perhaps he’s just not on top of the job. Perhaps he doesn’t have the briefing and the command of figures necessary. Perhaps he’s just not interested in the details of the policies that he rams through the commons.
Normally when cornered the PM lashes out at Miliband, but his attempts at defence today were poor. He was asked simple questions about police cuts and fees that demanded a simple answer. He failed to either make the case for cuts or convincingly deny they were taking place. It was uncomfortable.
His one attempt at attacking Ed came right at the end of their sparring session. The PM always has the last word, but Cameron failed to take his opportunity and detonate the TUC grenade many had thought was sitting in Miliband’s lap. He had a few attempts at it afterwards but it was half hearted. Ed will consider the damage done to his reputation to be minimal, if any.
Cameron was clearly riled today though, and when regular LabourList contributor Chris Williamson challenged him to apologise over cuts to the winter fuel allowance, he rudely said he had no idea who he was and dismissed his argument. The problem is, Cameron promised to keep the payment as it was. As we showed last week, he hasn’t. Cameron now owes Williamson two apologies, at least.
For the piece de resistance of an angry, crude and laboured performance, a distracted Cameron told Ed Balls to “shut up”. Surprisingly the speaker didn’t admonish him for his unparliamentary language. His Ed Balls obsession – which has been brewing for years – exploded out into public today. Cameron clearly loathes Ed Balls. What will annoy Cameron though, is that Balls couldn’t care less.
Although frankly, on today’s performance, Cameron doesn’t need an excuse to lose his temper.He should watch that. Reputations have turned sour for less.