Cameron must have thought things were finally starting to go his way. This morning’s papers had begun to focus – unsurprisingly – on Labour’s role in the LIBOR scandal. He’d managed to ignore Miliband’s calls for an independent inquiry for days. The atmosphere at the outset of PMQs was almost funereal. And Miliband adopted the tone of a funeral director – although he probably hopes that the funeral to come was not for anyone he knows or likes…
To describe the mood as sombre would be an understatement. Ed Balls looked like a man whose mind was elsewhere, his usually aggressive PMQs demeanour was gone. He was silent. Tired looking. Distracted.
And yet somehow, Cameron conspired to turn this would be promising scenario into a thorough defeat. He rambled through the opening few answers just as surely as Miliband rambled through his questions. Both were pointed but “statesmanlike”. No alarms. No surprises.
Everyone was waiting for the sucker punch from the PM. A damning condemnation of Labour’s regulatory failures, an accusation over the conduct of Balls, Vadera or some other former Treasury minister over LIBOR, an old quote – there had to be something, right? He’s had a week to prepare for this…
And yet the sucker punch never came. At least not from the PM. Miliband rose to his feet. Solemnity temporarily receeded. A smile flickered across his lips. Did the aprime Minister not say that under Labour there had been too much regulation?
Cameron rose swiftly to his feet. His body was at the despatch box but his mind was rooted to and reeling on the government benches. He was rendered temporarily mute.
He sat down again to the jeers of Labour MPs.
On arising a second time he delivered an appalling pre-cooked line – the Higgs Boson has been discovered but Labour has not discovered shame.
Groans and jeers all round.
The Prime Minister has not discovered contrition either. Nor comic timing. The only person to smile was sat opposite the PM. A brief smile crawled its way up the face of the shadow chancellor. A dash of colour returned to his cheeks.
The solemnity had moved from one side of the house to the other. And I felt the strangest emotion rise up in me – I felt embarrassed for the Prime Minister. It was not a welcome emotion – but I sense it’s one I may become more familiar with in the months ahead….