It’s rare that a PMQs can be described as a classic of the genre. Too often they are forced, trite, staged and bland affairs. In fact, most of those we’ve seen in the past six months could be described that way. Ed Miliband has rarely gotten out of his comfort zone and neither has the Prime Minister. The two have become locked in a deathly dull dance off between Ed “NHS” Miliband and David “OLTEP” Cameron.
Yet today’s PMQs was different. Perhaps because – coming immediately before the Autumn Statement – the pressure is off. Whilst these sessions are usually the keynote event of the week in Westminster (for good or often ill) this time it was a mere prelude, the background music before the crash of the orchestra. A kick-about before the cup final.
And yet it was a warm up with a bit of energy about it. A bit of malice, venom and spite. And it was Ed Miliband’s best PMQs for ages.
The theme was straightforward but effective. David Cameron has broken his promises. And there are a litany of them to choose from – the deficit, immigration, the NHS were Miliband’s weapons of choice – but they all serve to hammer away at the Tories strongest cards (Cameron and competence), “Cleggifying” the Prime Minister as an untrustworthy and unscrupulous charlatan who will say whatever he needs to say to get elected, but can’t or won’t deliver. Cameron’s response to being challenged on his failings was pitiful. He tried to list Miliband’s alleged broken promises (none memorable or particularly significant), he puffed out his chest and he waved his glasses. But he didn’t land so much as a glancing blow. For Miliband, in this most overlooked of PMQs, he’d surged to victory by brutally exposing Cameron’s weak underbelly – trust and delivery.
The downside of such an approach of course is that every time the public hears one politician attack another as untrustworthy, unreliable or a failure, their instant reaction is to think that all politicians are as bad as each other. But with Miliband’s leadership rating as low as they are, that’s a risk (grim and depressing as it sounds) that he can take at this stage. The upside is that when it comes to taking apart someone like Cameron – who is light on detail and heavy on moist-eyed promises – it’s rather effective. The TV debates could be rather interesting if they take on the tone of today’s session.
And what made this week’s PMQs a real classic was what happened after Miliband had sat down. Cameron – relishing the opportunity to goad the Shadow Chancellor (he’s obsessed with him, if you hadn’t noticed yet) – accused Balls of being a “Masosadist”. The already buoyant and boistrous Labour benches howled in barely disguised glee and amusement. Cameron claimed he meant Masochist, but it seems more likely that whilst aiming for S&M, he landed instead at M&S. His attempts to clarify his embarrassment only saw him sink deeper into the smutty muck.
And before we moved onto the Autumn Statement, there was Skinner. There had to be Skinner. And his question was on the economy. It was rather on message by the Beast of Bolsover’s standards. He asked why this government have increased government debt by more in this parliament than the Labour government did in 13 years. The Labour benches roared, Cameron spied an opportunity to blame Labour regardless, but the battle way won for the opposition.
Except today of course, this is just the first battle of a longer war. It’s one that will be even more ignored than most PMQs sessions. It’s one for those who are gluttons for punishment.
One for the Masosadists, as the Prime Minister might say.