PMQs verdict: Ed resists the urge to be the quiet man – and turns up the volume

29th January, 2014 2:30 pm

After three weeks of Ed Miliband doing his best “quiet man” impression at PMQs, the Labour leader managed to produce some volume today. Whilst LabourList readers believe that Miliband adopting a more restrained tone each Wednesday made him look “more serious and statesmanlike”, Labour MPs were beginning to fret. You can’t have a one-sided truce, and Cameron had been using these weekly sessions to smack Miliband around the head.

It was beginning to look unseemly. It was beginning to become a minor party management problem for Ed.

At first, it looked like today Miliband would be reading from the “silent script”. He stood up calmly, and asked a probing but serious question about Syrian refugees. The PM in return gave a reasonable but slightly obfuscatory answer. Cameron’s voice rose as he replied, and Labour backbenchers surely foresaw another dastardly Dave beats elegant Ed showdown at PMQs. They rarely end well.

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Fortunately, Ed decided to do something today that he seldom does at PMQs. He changed tack after a single question. My hearts as in my mouth at this point. Was it a retreat? A loss of confidence? Had the PM spiked Miliband’s next question? Would he be able to adjust quickly enough on his feet?

I needn’t have worried. Whoosh, came the first shot across the bows from Miliband – the PM said before the election that the 50p rate would stay, will he now promise he won’t lower taxes for the richest 1% again!?

As with Osborne yesterday, answer came there none

So Miliband tried again – and again, no answer was forthcoming. (Although a great deal of mirth was had on the Labour benches as the usually slick Prime Minister spent a minute or so muttering “where is that damn bit of paper with that flipping quote on?” or something slightly more parliamentary. I paraphrase – but the tone of concern and the look of flap were both palpable.) Cameron was all at sea, but what would he pull out. It had to be a zinger… it was… an interview with Ed Balls that we’d all heard on Sunday.

What a disappointing build-up to such a limp response. Which is how you might describe this government I suppose.

Clearly enjoying himself by now, once more Miliband thwacked him before taking his victory lap. The Labour benches were as loud as they’ve been for a while, and the Ed Balls hand-gesture (much missed by lobby hacks in recent week) has even returned. Thrice Cameron was asked to rule out another tax cut for the richest, thrice Miliband reminded the British public that Labour wished to see the wealthy pay more, not less. No PPB soundbites, sure, but a whole lot of evasive behaviour.

Clearly a dividing line for 2015 was solidifying in front of our eyes – more taxes for the rich, or else. And if Miliband can balance confidence with restraint and clarity today, then perhaps the campaign is there to be won after all. As long as he resists the temptation to slip backwards, to last week, and the weeks before. The temptation to become the quiet man again…

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  • BusyBeeBuzz

    He sounded much better today. Somewhere between the 2 extreme poles is best otherwise he comes across as someone on a public speaking course. I think it is important to speak from the heart and be yourself.

    • swatnan

      Agree. Mark is wrong, or has turned up his hearing aid. I listened in on R 5 and Ed was a bit more balanced than usual and resisted the temption to raise his voice, because whenever he does that he sounds like a dementecd banshee. Thats why Dave floundered and lost his pace a bit; it was Dave who ended up shrieking like a hysterical woman in labour, accompanied by the Oppo howling with glee; it was Bercow who for once had to come and help Dave out to stop the baying from the Oppo Benches.
      Another piece of advice Ed, keep PMQ’s boring snoring boroing, and stop trying to make political points; just put the questions in a pedestrian style, and stop wagging your finger at Dave, by holding a piece of paper in your hand, and show a bit of Staesmanship for a change.

      • David Simpson

        Ed has statesmanship by the bucket full but should not fall back into bellowing out his questions.Today he gave a measured performance at the dispatch box and made Cameron look a complete fool

  • MikeB

    I noticed a Tory MP tried to attack Labour in PMQs by pretending that US citizen Arni Graff should be chucked out the country presumably because he a: advises a political party and b: he was foreign. Surely a similar argument applies to Lynten Crosby.

  • uglyfatbloke

    Agree also – listened to the TV but did n’t watch (busy cooking) and felt Ed had the better of it.

    • Holly

      There you go then.
      If Ed thinks he is ‘winning’ by asking the current Conservative Chancellor what he plans to do, with regard to the top rate of tax, in the next parliament as the re-elected Conservative Chancellor, maybe someone could have a word in his shell-like.
      Either Miliband thinks Osborne will be the next Chancellor, therefore has every right to question his future tax plans, or he is just playing juvenile political games
      He can’t have it both ways.
      This idiotic line of questioning will of course stop dead in it’s tracks once the public start asking the same question, because when they do, they also expect Osborne to be the next Chancellor.
      Ed got the better of nothing the way I see it.
      If he thought Balls was going to be the next Chancellor Miliband would have no reason to ask the question to begin with….Unless….Erm….He is once again lowering politics to playground level….AGAIN!

  • Hamish Dewar

    PMQs is a waste of parliamentary time and public money, starting with the formulaic first question and answer; “This morning I have had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today”.
    The bane of my working life was people who thought ‘meetings’ were the essence of the job, and that the longer they went on the more productive they were being.
    Do Government ministers really share this delusion? Probably a rhetorical question.
    Ed should seriously ask the Speaker to rule as a point of order whether it is legitimate for the PM to refuse point-blank to answer the questions put to him

  • redteddy

    I would not worry too much about PMQs. Jim Callaghan used to rout Margaret Thatcher every week. It did not stop Thatcher from gaining a decent overall majority in 1979. What we could do with is more radicalism from later. a well supported policy is the public ownership of the Utilities, including water, and the Railways. They have robbed the poor too many times.

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