PMQs started ominously for the PM this week. As his backbenchers grumbled and plotted behind him he won’t have been pleased to see arch-Eurosceptic Andrew Rossindell leap to his feet with the first question. The subject matter – perhaps predictably – was the EU. Was the PM going to be steely/a bulldog/Mrs Thatcher? “I’ll be all of them and more, anything you want”, the grinning PM appeared to say, “just stop talking about Europe. Please?”.
So up stepped Ed Miliband, and talked about Europe. The Tory benches were mute. There was none of the primal whooping that Miliband seems to draw from the Tory benches. They listened intently as the Labour leader pinned down the PM on what – exactly – he planned to do at this week’s EU summit. Back came the reply from the PM:
“Waffle waffle waffle, EU, waffle waffle, Germany, waffle.”
I’m paraphrasing of course, but not much. The PM was in a tailspin, his voice suddenly sounded hoarse, and he was talking, and talking (and talking), until even he seemed to wonder what on earth he was talking about. For the first time in months, Miliband genuinely seemed to have Cameron on the rack. Miliband has won many recent PMQs encounters, but he’s yet to smash the PM to smithereens.
Would it be today?
Could it be?
And over Europe?
Miliband split his questions. Perhaps he thought three was enough – more likely he’d been unable to stretch his limited material to six questions. Either way it was a tactical error, Cameron was able to wriggle free. Flashman showed his teeth an snapped at the backbenches, so by the time Ed returned Dave was back on his feet.
The resulting exchanges weren’t memorable. At best they could have put down a marker for another time. But the knockout blow never came.
Cameron will no doubt feel relieved as he returns to No.10. A dreadful PMQs avoided, he merely had a bad one. Miliband can still chalk up today as a victory, and having done some leg work for the Tory Right, he can watch the vipers nest tear itself apart when Cameron returns from Brussels later this week. Because there’s nothing he can do that’ll appease his right flank, nothing at all…