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Wednesday 12th December 2012 | 18:33
WORDS: SAM MACRORY
Sombre, grown-up analysis one minute, foot-stampingly adolescent name-calling the next. PMQs lurches clumsily between its split personalities. First up today, its serious side. Hushed tones. Measured questions. Answers full of statistics. Ed Miliband went after the Government's 1 per cent cap on benefit increases, and rattled through a list of people who would be hit – and who he'd like to vote Labour in 2015. These were the strivers who get up to work in the morning. They're different from the shirkers, who in George Osborne's opinion prefer keep the curtains drawn and avoid work.
Strivers, said Mr Miliband include "the night-shift factory worker, the hard-pressed nurse, they're the ones who suffer". But the Labour leader has friends in high places too. "It's the cleaner who cleans the chancellor's office while his curtains are still drawn and he's still in bed." George Osborne might want to have a chat with the cleaner if they're part of Ed Miliband's PMQs prep team.
The battle of benefits has begun. The Government, said Mr Miliband "look after their friends, the people on their Christmas card list and, meanwhile, they hit people they don't meet and whose lives they will never understand." It was a stinging line, and Mr Cameron didn't look happy hearing it. "This is the party for people who work, his is the party for unlimited welfare" came the Cameron riposte –the Labour leader finds that equally uncomfortable. Both were winning, both were losing. This called for drastic action - do away with the policies and get onto the personal.
Ed Balls, at this point gleefully waving around a graph, was first to take a hit .The Shadow Chancellor was "like bullies all over the world – he can give it out but can’t take it" bullied Mr Cameron. Rarely have I have such a loud cheer in the House of Commons as Cam's gang joined in the taunts. No wilting here though. Mr Balls looked delighted. Like all good pantomime villains, he thrives on the jeers.
Mr Miliband may not be anyone's idea of muscular support, but he also knows how to hurl an insult from behind the safety of the other side of the Despatch Box. "I've heard it all when the boy from the Bullingdon Club lectures people on bullying" he lectured before heading into high brow territory. "Have you trashed any restaurants recently?" asked this 42 year-old of the 46 year-old fellow Oxford graduate sitting opposite. Normally that type of thing sets the Speaker's heckles on overdrive. The 'you' refers to him, and he, the Speaker, hates them, the MPs, when they do that. He, the Speaker, won't be doing any trashing, you see. But for some reason, as ex-Bullingdon Club member Mr Cameron blushed and pretended to read his notes, Mr Bercow decided he could let the taunting continue. You'd almost think they weren't friends.
Brighter contributions were heard from the backbenches, but in the middle of it all Mr Cameron exploded: "I think the Leader of the Opposition is catching the disease from the shadow chancellor of not being able to keep his mouth shut for more than five minutes." Labour MPs jeered. Tories gasped. The opposition front bench pointed to Mr Cameron's increasingly crimson visage.
The badly-behaved part of the PMQs personality was firmly in control. Shirker, striver, or casual observer – it was time to draw the curtains and look away.
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