Verdict: At PMQs, substance alone never beats style

November 21, 2012 1:04 pm

David Cameron won this subdued PMQs. Of that there is no doubt. That’s not because this was an outstanding performance from the PM (it wasn’t) or a particularly poor performance from Miliband (it wasn’t), but because, purely and simply, at PMQs, style will always beat substance.

Always. Always. Always.

And that’s something I’m not convinced Ed Miliband and his team have ever completely taken on board. His substance has always been perfectly good (well researched, rigorous), but it has only been in the last 7/8 months when the style caught up with the substance – more calm, confident, sometimes almost brash – that he was widely considered to be “winning” at PMQs. A looser, more relaxed and less forced Ed Milibnd was consistently getting the better of the PM each Wednesday. Yet today some of tw old habits crept back in. A shoehorned joke here, a needless repetition there.

Where had the style gone? This substance couldn’t win on its own…

Of course, some of you will lament such an interpretation of the PMQs bearpit. Politics should be about high principles, string arguments and a comprehensive marshalling of facts, you will argue. In an ideal world that would be true. If you ever find that ideal world, call me – I’d love to see it.

But PMQs has never been about any of that worthy but necessary stuff. PMQs is about confidence, élan, wit and insouciance. (And other words that sound better in French.)

And today, with a couple of well turned phrases and an appropriately timed sneer, Cameron won the day. No matter that his answers weren’t answers, or that the NHS is a mess. Style beat substance. Convincingly. With a zinger to finish. No comebacks.

In fairness to Miliband, part of his difficulty today was that he seems to find it tough to “change gear” at PMQs. Three somber statesmanlike questions on the Middle East followed by three barbed attacks on the government is a tough volte face for anyone of a moderate disposition to complete convincingly. Yet the PM has no such difficulty, switching effortlessly from agreeing with the honourable gentleman to tearing him to pieces with a pre conceived assault. Whether part of his personality or an acquired skill, it’s a powerful weapon for a political chameleon to have in his armoury.

In contrast, Miliband finds it hard to change gear like that. It may make him a well adjusted human being, but it makes winning set piece jousting sessions like today much harder.

That’s something that Ed needs to come to terms with and learn from. Because at PMQs substance alone never beats a style.

Never. Never. Never.

And after getting used to seeing Miliband trounce Cameron with regularity, I’d like to see that again. With style.

  • charliebeckett

    So if style always beats substance why does PMQ get so much attention? It gets a lot more than it used to, btw.

  • http://twitter.com/Ceilidhann Kayleigh Anne

    I get that PMQs exists to rally confidence in the Commons troops, so to speak, and I still don’t know a single non politics geek person who actually watches it, but there’s something so incredibly depressing in jokes getting more attention than policy.

    In lighter news, Cameron’s hair’s getting more interesting as time passes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Homfray/510980099 Mike Homfray

    That says what is wrong with PMQ and politics more broadly. It needs changing. I don’t think that Ed will ever beat a PR man like Cameron on ‘style’, but I also think people are a bit sick of snake oil salesmen running politics

Latest

  • News A brief guide to David Cameron’s Christian “moral code”

    A brief guide to David Cameron’s Christian “moral code”

    As we approach Easter, David Cameron has talked about his “moral code”, called for a more strident Christianity that is “more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives” and praised ”countless acts of kindness carried out by those who believe in and follow Christ”. Meanwhile, a “Whitehall Source” was today smearing the Christian charity The Trussell Trust, who yesterday revealed that in the past year food bank use has reached […]

    Read more →
  • News Labour’s PPC for Colne Valley stands down

    Labour’s PPC for Colne Valley stands down

    Binnie Joshi Barr, Labour’s candidate in Colne Valley, has decided to step down due to health reasons. Barr announced her decision in a letter to local party members. She said: “Colne Valley deserves and will have a Labour MP in 2015. Unfortunately due to ill health, it is not going to be me. “Since the birth of my daughter Aarya eight weeks ago, my rheumatoid arthritis has returned and worse than before. I have regrettably come to the conclusion that […]

    Read more →
  • Comment How Putin shows the same ‘maskirovka’ as his own soldiers

    How Putin shows the same ‘maskirovka’ as his own soldiers

    Yesterday in the European Parliament the EU Commissioner at the heart of the Ukraine crisis told MEPs that the rhetoric from Russia was “worse than at any time in the Cold War.” Today in Geneva four-way talks are taking place which are bringing Europe back to the forefront of the diplomacy seeking to de-escalate the crisis. But the stand-off in towns across Eastern Ukraine remains at least as likely to trigger the very opposite. On behalf of Labour in Europe, we have continued to maintain […]

    Read more →
  • News NHS waiting list reaches nearly 3 million

    NHS waiting list reaches nearly 3 million

    The amount of patients waiting for NHS treatment has risen to 2.9 million, according to new referral to treatment times (RTT) figures. Meanwhile, the Health Service Journal reports (£): “The NHS has breached the target for 90 per cent of admitted patients to start treatment within 18 weeks for the first time since 2011, the latest figures from NHS England reveal.” With 550 of those patients having waited over a year for treatment, two thirds of England’s major A&Es missing their […]

    Read more →
  • Video “So long, it’s been good to know you” – Austin Mitchell’s farewell video

    “So long, it’s been good to know you” – Austin Mitchell’s farewell video

    As LabourList reported earlier, Great Grimsby MP Austin Mitchell has announced his decision to stand down at the next election. He won the seat in a by-election in 1977 – back when Jim Callaghan was Prime Minister. To coincide with his announcement, Mitchell has made a farewell video to Parliament and the people of Grimsby. There’s a healthy dose of sentimentality, a couple of jokes, and even a montage. Before entering Parliament, Mitchell worked as a broadcast journalist, and it […]

    Read more →