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PMQs matter and Ed’s good start matters too

Posted on 14 October 2010 | 12:10pm

(A technical wizard has somehow found the blog that flew into the ether as I was heading to make a speech and present manufacturing industry awards in Ironbridge … here it is)

TB’s book got a fresh wave of publicity yesterday with several of the telly people reading out his colourful description of the nightmare of Prime Minister’s Questions – bowel-moving indeed! – as Ed Miliband made his debut.

If he was as nervous as TB was the first time he did it – very very – he didn’t really show it. When TB was PM, he was especially nervous when a new Tory leader came along for his first effort – he got through a few – and David Cameron seemed a little unsure of himself. I don’t know what else was going on in his diary yesterday, but I sensed he hadn’t prepared as thoroughly as he normally does.

In any event, most people seemed to give the verdict to Ed, which will be a boost to him, and to Labour’s morale.

PMQs really matter. They matter for the mood they set. They matter above all for the arguments they expose. I can say with some certainty that the strategic battlefield for successive elections was in large part dictated by the arguments that worked or failed in PMQs, and by the strengths and weaknesses of the main players as they were revealed in these jousts.

To some, they are a shouting match. My Mum is visiting us at the moment, and she did her usual ‘look at them yelling at each other like kids’ when we watched it on the news last night. But to the political world, they are a strategic anvil, and if anything have become more important not less as the media age has developed.

Ed clearly did better than the Tories expected him to and the government benches looked a bit gloomy by the end of proceedings. You can be absolutely sure the Tory whips will have the volume cranked to full blast next time round. The secret there is to remember that even if you cannot hear your own voice, the public can. Once TB latched on to that, his confidence grew.

Ed showed calm, confidence and strength and can take special pleasure in seeing Cameron get his needled look. Not a bad day’s work.

As for the strategy that emerged, Cameron intends never to miss the chance to blame Labour for the difficult and unpopular decisions the government will be taking. Ed has to make sure it wears thin pretty quickly, not least by reminding people of something they sense instinctively – that the economic crisis was rather more complicated than ‘it’s all Labour’s fault.’

Ed went on plans to scrap child benefit for top rate tax-payers, perhaps easier for Labour at this stage than student fees. But he knows he cannot just get up week after week and have a go about cuts. He can do that pretty often. But I hope he also finds an early opportunity to ask Cameron to save money somewhere – ending charitable status for private schools might be an idea – to show that Labour intend not only to capitalise on Tory-Lib cuts, but also to set out how they would make some of the difficult choices coming down the track.

  • TimC

    I agree with your assessment – there was some pretty fertile ground on which to sew the seeds of his first PMQ’s. The inconsistency of the Child Benefit proposals from the Cameron team were like manna from heaven. EdM did well at making Cameron squirm and he simply couldn’t defend the indefensible.

    In the near-term though EdM needs to show the British public how he would make fairer and more consistent cuts to public expenditure as well as highlighting areas where the tories are weak.

  • I completely agree about ending charitable status for private schools. Studying Charity Law last year, I was astounded by just how much tax relief charitable status grants them, and how little they have to give in exchange. I can’t remember the figures, but cutting it would increase tax revenue substantially, as well as having political impact. It’s something dear to Cameron, as well as to a lot of Tories, but they could be challenged that if everyone is indeed to be “in this together”, then their own personal favourites should take the same hit. It might make the public realise just how much the Coalition cuts are geared towards the poor, rather than the rich.

    Aside from that, I too was very impressed with Ed’s performance. Unfortunately, I think that will mean that the government benches make it much much harder for him next week- but he’s started strong and surprised a lot of people. Here’s hoping that he keeps it up, and continues with a strong showing.

  • Dave We’re All In This Together Cameron should rightly be very wary of Ed who is clearly only just getting started on him. I think Cameron could recoup some of the unpaid tax and chastise the NHS for spending £300m on management consultants in one year.
    Anyway good blog.

  • Chris lancashire

    Milliband definitely did OK but I’m not sure that PMQs is as important as you say. What the majority of voters see are 30sec soundbites on TV news and many have the same reaction as your mother.
    Great idea on private schools – how much will it save? Or is this just another uncosted class driven snipe?

  • s chapman

    Sick to death of this crap about the financial crisis being a complicated affair and not down to the last Govt.
    GB presided over a debt culture in the UK that we’ve never seen before…are you trying to tell me that GB never knew anything of the reckless lending by institutions such as Northern Rock…he never knew of the personal debt mountain that he saw data on every month…that he never knew of the waste and over-manning in the Public sector….

    As for PMQs if Ed Miliband can’t make an impact when the Govt are on the back foot re the cuts and the difficult weeks ahead then best get my nan in there son

  • Alex Gallagher

    Strangely, I found one effect of Ed’s presence was that Dave looked old…! at 27 or whatever he !

  • Paul Hanley

    Surely nobody (not even DC) can sustain this line about the cuts being a result of Labour incompotence for a moment longer. When France are considering a longer working life for their people you know we’re way beyond anything Gordon Brown could have dealt with alone.

  • Robert Jackson

    When I was learning maths at school in the 60’s and 70’s we were shown how to prove 1=2 or any other number by cunning algebra – invariably it involved multiplying both sides of an equation by zero.

    Now we see “coalition” has the same effect when applied to any policy of either partner in the government.

    Thus:

    “We will not increase tuition fees” x “Coalition” = “Universal child benefit” x “Coalition” = “I promise that under a Conservative government” = “I promise that under a LibDem government” = er, pure wind.

  • Stevebrundish

    I agree that ED did well. I was not looking forward to PMQs but as ED calmly went to work on the child benefit, even adding a few jokes when DC did not answer the question. At the end I thought Milliband’s relaxed delivery countered Cameron’s similar approach very effectively. He is showing he can do the job and if he delivers to middle England as promised he will be alot closer to his brother on policy than Niel Kinnock. This can only be good for Labour and bad news for Cameron Clegg.

  • David Kingston

    Ed Miliband was impressive in debut but was helped by DC’s arrogance. The PM had either not bothered to have a blindingly obvious question researched or was frightened of revealing the answer. His response was to ignore the actual question and repeat the bland slogan that has so obviously failed to impress anyone who takes more than a couple of seconds to think about his reply. Realising he had been caught out,DC bluffed and blustered and rallied a bit. But even then he turned his back on the speaker and the opposition to get support from his party and their new chums with the hackneyed mantra of “its all their fault”. Rattled, the PM then went on to completely fail to listen to a question from another MP offering a written reply before offering him the opportunity to repeat the question.

    The arrogance was plain to see. Don’t even think of giving a thought out argument. The same approach that led to this manifest anomaly being announced without consulating his cabinet or coalition, anyone of whom would have told him and George to just do a little thinking.

  • Gilliebc

    Good post if I may say so AC. I was very surprised by Ed Miliband’s confident performance at his first PMQ’s. The problem I have with EM is that I simply don’t like him very much for many reasons. I’m hoping I (and others) will warm towards him as time goes on and he hopefully impresses us with his political skills and new ideas on how to get out of this awful mess our country is in. I can’t see this ConDem government holding it together for a full-term, so let’s all hope that EM has got some plan of action ready to put before the country when the next General Election is called.

  • Janete

    ‘Sick to death of this crap’. Funny that …it’s what I think every time I see you have posted another comment.

  • Richard Brittain

    A good blog post. Ed did well.

  • James

    Ed ‘the Cred’ Miliband was a joy to watch yesterday, and I am now quickly getting over my initial disappiontment at David M not winning.

    If Eddie the Eagle keeps this up, I think we could be back on track. It was great to hear him talk about the government’s ‘shambles’ of a conference and his mocking of Cameron asking him questions.

    LABOUR IS BACK! Great stuff.

  • s chapman

    Hit a nerve luv…..diddums

  • Jeremy

    Chumpman, I think you’ve mistaken us for people who wouldn’t smash your face in if we got a chance.

  • Richard Brittain

    I for one enjoy s chapman’s contributions – he speaks his mind!

  • Super Snooper

    But how tiny it is.