Flat and predictable. There you go – that’s today’s PMQs in three words. No need to say more really..is there? Oh well…if I must…
Today’s PMQs had been sketched out clearly in advance. The battle lines were drawn – uninspired, sure, but drawn – as MPs loudly took to their seats. Cameron would attack the unions, Miliband would go on unemployment. Once you accepted that was the likely shape of things all that remained was the necessity for each person to play their part, and grade how well they performed. This was less a jousting contest and more a spelling bee – get your lines right, don’t say
anything stupid, sit down.
As MPs shuffled and chatted in the chamber Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillian delivered what might be her last set of responses from the dispatch box. Nobody noticed, which may well be the ministerial epitaph of poor Cheryl Gillian.
The Prime Minister arose to the first spectacular planted question from the Tory benches. There were three or four of them – all variations on “Why are these unions so unreasonable and evil?”. They gave Cameron an opportunity to do what he failed to achieve during Ed Miliband’s questions – bash the unions, and tie Labour to the strikes. Personally I see no shame in being tied to the actions of millions of ordinary workers, trampled underfoot by a government making them pay for a crisis caused by others. I hope Ed Miliband feels the same way, although his continued silence on the matter makes me doubt that.
His performance today – presumably not aided by an obvious cold that rendered him more nasal than ever before – was flat. A successful performance at PMQs involves winning over two audiences – the one watching live and the one who will only see the sound bites. Come 6pm tonight Ed Miliband’s repetitive lines may well gain some traction with a public worried about their economic future, but for those of us watching live it was unconvincing. Not poor, just poor considering the wealth of rocks available to chuck at the government. Those rocks should have been denting the credibility of this government – Miliband might consider himself lucky to have scratched the paintwork today.
Partially that’s because of the party’s conflicted relationship with our record in government. Cameron will miss no opportunity to attack our thirteen years in government, but we seem split between defence and mea culpa, with little clarity over what we feel we did wrong, and what we feel was justified at the time. Until that internal (and often unspoken) conflict is resolved, we’re going to have more predictable PMQs – and not in a good way either.