The PMQs panel is back as the election draws ever closer. Opinion is divided in the team on the victor this week, but a welcome return to form for our favourite institution…
Last night’s BBC Documentary ‘Inside the Commons’ shone a revealing light on PMQs, highlighting it as a rambunctious, boorish, unpleasant episode dominated by planted questions from the Government whips from which no one leaves with a reputation enhanced – and today’s edition was the ultimate vindication of that fact. That said, isn’t that really why we love PMQs? The idea that it is a good platform for niche constituency issues to be addressed is a misrepresentation of what PMQs is designed for – it is not as if this is the only chance for those, entirely legitimate, concerns to be raised (despite many of the public’s desperate desire to believe that shouting at each other for half an hour every Wednesday is all MPs do – something that last night’s admirable documentary did its best to rubbish). No, PMQs is a chance to hold the Prime Minister to account for his actions that week and a chance for the opposition to suggest where he might have gone wrong and for everyone to get a little over-excited by the partisanship of it all.
By that definition, this week’s was a vintage edition and it was every bit as boorish and rambunctious as Michael Cockerell and his team documented. The problem for Ed Miliband this week is that he asked an entirely legitimate question six different times and with no answer from the Prime Minister – yet still he came away looking defeated. After a morning of dire poll predictions in Scotland and both Brian Cox and the Chuckle Brothers distancing themselves from Ed Miliband it wasn’t a great platform for the Leader of the Opposition. And then, of course, his Shadow Chancellor struggled to name any pro-business supporters of Labour on Newsnight, thus leaving an open goal for one of Cameron’s better gags of recent times.
Miliband did his very best to paint the Tories as the party of the hedge funds, but his problem is that anyone who thinks that is already going to vote Labour – it does absolutely nothing to attract the swing voters, and is an even bigger problem in a week where he has been savaged by business leaders. Of course this all means very little in the outside world and Labour must still be seen as favourites to win the election – but it is surely awful for the morale of the party on the eve of such an important campaign.
The figures from Lord Ashcroft’s latest poll looked to be weighing heavily on the faces of the Labour front bench as Ed Miliband went on the offensive over the tax arrangements of UK Hedge funds. Miliband’s attack was simple: hedge funds are not paying enough in stamp duty but the Tories are not prepared to be tough on businesses which donate so much to their party…a somewhat tenuous link. That was enough for Cameron who had evidently been waiting excitedly for this moment since Ed Balls’ car crash interview on Newsnight the night before.
Referring to Balls only managing to remember the first name of a solitary business person who supported Labour, Cameron joked: “Bill somebody is not a person, Bill somebody is Labour’s policy” The usual rowdiness ensued as Ed Miliband valiantly – and legitimately – pressed the question about hedge funds another five times but he was getting nowhere. Miliband was forced to resign to heckling the coalition front bench as Cameron proceeded to bludgeon the Shadow Chancellor and Leader of the Opposition over their poor relationships with business. A sound victory for Cameron on this one; six more PMQs to go before the election.
PMQs this week was nothing short of rowdy, with jokes bouncing between the benches and the Speaker attempting to call order to the House numerous times. Before settling into the relative animation of today’s debates, both Mr Cameron and Miliband condemned the recent ISIL attacks, with Cameron calling for the need to stop such barbarous attacks. Moving swiftly into a chattier-than-usual PMQs, the hot topic of discussion was tax.
Miliband’s tactics today were undoubtedly a little uncomfortable, awkward even, but there is little doubt that they were effective. In the repeated interrogation of PM, Miliband convincingly demonstrated not only Cameron’s mastery of avoidance, but the reality that when it comes to questions of stamp duty for hedgefunds, the Conservatives are embarrassingly short of answers.
Regardless of the relative success in exposing Cameron, and despite some entertaining moments, it would be a challenge to call a decisive victory today for either side.