David Cameron and Ed Miliband both spent part of their youth toiling away as special advisers in the nineties. Today it felt like they were trying to relive it.
Heseltine? Major? Weak weak weak? This wasn’t PMQs – it was an exceptionally turgid, politics-themed episode of “I love the 90s”. (I didn’t, by the way, I thought the nineties was, on the whole, a bit rubbish). The jokes especially were of a particularly vapid nineties vintage, so much so that I half expected to see celebrity Tory Jim Davidson cracking a couple of his finest “gags”. Perhaps accompanied by John Virgo.
And all the more depressing because Ed Miliband didn’t seem to have the fire in his belly this week. Recent performances have seen him riffing on his key themes, taking questions and running with him, and battering Cameron into submission through sheer knowledge of a topic. This week was the opposite – Ed didn’t seem to believe in his own questions, didn’t really follow up with anything worthwhile, and tried to compare Cameron to John Major.
David Cameron is many things. He may well lose his back benches over Europe. But he’s not John Major, and we’ll look daft if we try to pretend he is.
After a spot of question splitting – always a tricky tactic to get right – Miliband was back with questions about energy policy. A nice try, I’m sure, but the questions were difficult to follow for all but the most interested observer. And by difficult to follow, I mean baffling, and just a little bit dull. And much as we may wish it weren’t the case – at a time of financial hardship, people don’t care about energy policy, windfarms or shale gas – they care about energy prices.
This was point scoring without purpose – and Miliband only seems to work in this format when he’s got that purpose, fire in the belly and a belief that he’s doing the right thing. Here, it was PMQs by numbers, thought up late in the day and never getting out of first gear. A shame, really, as the omnishambles that is the Cabinet Growth Implementation Committee was there for the taking.
And yet despite claiming a narrow win today, the PM won’t be able to take much solace from this performance . His jokes were flat. He lost his temper. He had no answer to questions about party splits. There’s clearly an expanding chasm between Lib Dem and Tory ministers. And to top the lot, he could lose a vote in the commons this afternoon. That he came out on top merely serves to show how misfiring Ed Miliband was this afternoon.
Ed still holds the upper hand at PMQs on the whole, but not this week. He needs to remember what he’s good at – and what he’s trying to achieve – rather than just whacking on hits from the nineties and playing a karaoke version of “weak weak weak”…
Because that way lies Mike Flowers plays Pops. And nobody needs that.