Oliver Foster (@Oliver_Foster)
On the day marking one year from the most uncertain General Election in decades; and the morning after one of Ed Miliband’s more bizarre and ill-advised proclamations – that out of him and Cameron he has “much more intellectual self-confidence” – today’s PMQs underlined precisely why the British electorate are currently struggling to build much enthusiasm towards either of the two main parties. It was all just a little bit…“meh”.
Without doubt a hands-down Cameron win, but things might not be so easy for him on the election trail when he is posed similarly populist questions about rent controls. Miliband and his people know they are on to something with the cost of living proposals. Of course, few if any of the new policies actually add up, but to the average punter who doesn’t engage in politics until they absolutely need to, they do appear to pass the test of fairness and ‘being on our side’. Having the Prime Minister publicly backing your money-grabbing landlord surely won’t be a comfortable, vote-winning position for him when people come to putting their black cross in the box.
That said, Cameron was on fighting form today. He wasn’t unsettled at any point, was confident in his handling of the rent question (helpfully and amusingly doling out a series of negative quotes from senior Labour spokesmen), revealed a decent new strategic line about Unite – “policies for rent; a leader for rent” – and managed to scrape through the awkward questioning on Pfizer / Astra Zeneca – not so much because of clarity or confidence in his position, but because yet again Miliband fluffed his opportunity by being too technical.
Unsurprisingly, Cameron threw the “intellectual self-confidence” line right back at the Labour leader, surely something which Tory campaign strategists are already planning to use for yet more humorous effect between now and 7th May 2015.
David Radestock (@davidradestock)
Perhaps the only surprise at today’s PMQs was that nobody mentioned the fact it is one year until the next general election. There was little doubt, however, that both main parties are shaping up for the fight, and like most predictions for next year’s vote, this one ended too close to call.
Miliband chose to split his questions, focusing initially on the issue of private rents. Labour has a shiny new populist policy which they are keen to push, and Miliband stuck to his lines well. Cameron’s rebuttals were well delivered but almost painfully predictable, and Ed knows his party are on the right side of the key voters with this one.
Round two was much more comfortable for the Prime Minister. Miliband’s claim that the potential takeover of Astra Zeneca by Pfizer “matters to people right across the country” may have been pushing the boundaries of belief, and Cameron benefited from the fact that being in government allows you to actually do things. Having key personnel involved from the start may well prove to be the most effective course of action in ensuring the right outcome, and Cameron successfully rebutted Miliband’s request for (yet another) inquiry.
A predictable, rather tedious exchange ended with neither leader having advanced their position, nor lost much ground. With a year to go, the trenches are dug, the battle has begun. Just don’t expect it to be a spectator sport.
Sam Oakley (@samoakley91)
The problem that Ed Miliband faces – and he is certainly a victim of his own intellectual self-confidence here – is that he is arguably more influential on the national debate as Leader of the Opposition than he ever would be as a Prime Minister with a small majority.
There can be no denying that he has forced the Government’s hand on energy prices (or at least forced the hand of other companies), on non-intervention in Syria, on a number of public health issues, and now perhaps on fixed-term rents. Whilst there is uncertainty over whether ‘generation rent’ actually exists outside of London, Miliband seemed to receive lukewarm backing from the Prime Minister today on the idea of allowing three year contracts, despite the PM’s best attempts to paint the move as a return to rent controls.
The problem with Cameron’s responses to Miliband, painting him as a 1970s socialist, a slave to the unions, and a man with no ideas, is that they are growing increasingly stale – as Miliband himself noted in yesterday’s Evening Standard interview.
Even with a few misfires, Miliband is still controlling the debate content, if not actually winning it. And there lies the dynamic equilibrium in which we find ourselves, and should expect to find ourselves until at least post-Conference. Labour attack the Government but aren’t quite convinced by their own argument, leaving a hole for the Government to attack them and a simple pivot back to their economic message. If Miliband’s economic populism were laced with some of the fierce intellect of which he is so confident, Labour could dominate PMQs week in/week out. Alas, it is not and, ergo, they don’t.