Today was always going to be a difficult PMQs for Ed Miliband. And by difficult, I of course mean a total nightmare from which there seemed no realistic prospect of escape. The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that the last sentence contained the word “nightmare”. It’s the Westminster word of the week, and Cameron was keen to shoehorn it in everywhere.
With emails from Miliband’s office describing Balls as a – wait for it – nightmare. With the former head of the Co-op Bank (a former Labour councillor) becoming the most famous meth-head in Britain.
This was never going to be one of the better weeks in the chamber for Miliband – Miliband had come expecting a kicking. And as sure as night follows day that’s what he got.
And yet, at first, it looked like there was a highly unlikely and remarkable escape route opening up. It seems that David Cameron – the man responsible for closing children’s centres hither and thither, has been campaigning to save one in his Chipping Norton back yard. He’s even signed a local petition. Hypocrisy of the highest order. There was even a potential zinger from Miliband – “imagine what he could do if he was Prime Minister”. But Miliband swallowed the line – and the day was lost.
And soon the hammer blows began to rain down on the Labour leader’s head. Or perhaps we should call them “Flowerblows”. No pun intended.
But, knowing what was coming, Ed Miliband decided to do something that – on the surface at least – looked quite courageous. Instead of taking his kicking, he decided to list just some of the more *interesting* people Cameron and the Tories had been associated with and taken money from (and that’s without mentioning Coulson and Brooks, which he did, sort of).
The strategy was flawed in three ways. Firstly, because saying “well your lot are awful too” is just the kind of old politics, we’re all as bad as each other nonsense that Miliband says he wants to put behind him. Secondly, presumably because he knows that, his counter attack wasn’t that convincing. And thirdly, it meant that Cameron got to talk about the Rev Flowers again instead of Sure Start centres, or – you know – the cost of living.
And it didn’t get much better from then on. Cameron wasn’t on top form, but he still managed to set about squashing whatever came before him. And what came before him was a note from the benches behind, and on that note was a tweet from former Labour minister Tony McNulty, criticising Miliband’s line of attack at PMQs. Now that’s rapid rebuttal. And it’s cheap and silly, but damn, it was also effective.
Because there was something quite accurate in McNulty’s point. It’s 18 months until the next election, and the time for knockabout at PMQs is coming to an end. Backbenchers can and should make clever jibes at the expense of Nick Boles and the PM’s failed “modernisation” project – Miliband meanwhile should be focussed resolutely on the lives of ordinary working people. And frankly, they don’t know who Nick Boles is, and I’m quite sure they don’t give a stuff.