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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