A sombre PMQs this week, and as quiet as I’ve heard the chamber for some time. Unsurprising considering the news from Afghanistan this morning, but positive to see – albeit briefly – the whole house come together to ask serious questions, worthy of serious answers.
Alas it could not last. And soon we returned to the pro-forma jousting that usually comprises PMQs. Often Ed Miliband is accused By the PM of using overly prepared lines each Wednesday. Today was another exemplar of how hypocritical that attack is. Seemingly the PM writes his answers before he hears the questions too. That’s the only explanation for his often irrelevant and always obfuscatory responses. I’m starting to suspect that we’d learn just as much if the two leaders walked to the dispatch box and ceremonially shredded their questions and answers before glowering at each other for half an hour.
Yet this criticism of Cameron’s QAD (Question Avoidance Disorder), risks ignoring how well Ed Miliband performed today. In fact my criticisms of PMQs more generally in recent weeks have risked ignoring how much he has improved. And improved he has.
Gone (almost) are the repetitions that showed he was uncomfortable with barracking from the opposition benches. Gone is the hesitation. Gone is the OTT focus on his notes. Instead he now seems calm. Almost relaxed. He doesn’t look like he’s one PMQs away from getting steamrollered by the PM. He’s asking good questions – this week on tax credit and child allowance – that matter outside of the Westminster Village. He no longer looks like he’s just complaining. And there seems, now we’re off the NHS, to be sufficient narrative outside of that hugely flawed set of “reforms” to sustain him at the dispatch box. He’s still not as good at PMQs as he is at responding to Prime Ministerial statements – which he’s excellent at, but no-one watches – but there’s a marked improvement on Wednesday lunchtimes. (And as much as I loathe these sessions, they still matter.)
The training and preparation is obviously working. Keep it up Ed. And maybe one day – if youre lucky – he’ll answer one of your questions…