PMQs review: Cameron's anger boils over

An easy win for Miliband against a red-faced Cameron.

With the country officially in recession and a cabinet minister's career on the line, today's PMQs was always likely to be an easy win for Ed Miliband. And so it proved. In the circumstances, David Cameron's performance was far from disastrous but, as Miliband put it, he is now shrouded by a "shadow of sleaze".

Some will question Miliband's decision to devote just two of his six questions to the economy but, on this issue, Cameron performed better than expected. His argument that "the solution to a debt crisis cannot be more debt" is one that will continue to resonate with many as the eurozone nears the precipice. Conversely, his attack on Labour for "gettting us into this mess" is one that is proving ever less effective with the passage of time.

It was on Jeremy Hunt that Cameron came unstuck. Challenged by Miliband to defend Hunt's position, he merely replied that the Leveson inquiry should be allowed to proceed and that it was important to hear "every side of the story". Yet as Miliband noted, it is Cameron, not Leveson, who is responsible for his ministers' conduct. The resignation of Adam Smith, Hunt's special adviser, this morning suggests that the government is, in fact, pre-judging the outcome of the inquiry. Oddly, however, Miliband failed to question Cameron on the revelation that he did discuss the BSkyB bid with James Murdoch. The strongest charge against the PM is that Hunt was doing his master's bidding.

The exchanges ended with a red-faced Cameron shouting, "I don't duck my responsibilites, what a pity he can't live up to his!" That wasn't the only flash of anger from the PM. In response to a question from Labour MP Shabana Mahmood on the recession, he haughtily remarked: "well read". Cameron was alleging that the question had been pre-written but to many it sounded like yet another put-down of a female MP.

Cameron hot under the collar Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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