Fortunately for David Cameron, parliament was in recess when last week's terrible employment figures were published, but Ed Miliband was determined not to let him escape. Playing his favourite game of "ask the Prime Minister a question he doesn't know the answer to", Miliband asked Cameron how much long-term youth unemployment had risen by since he scrapped the Future Jobs Fund in March. Cameron didn't know the answer (77 per cent) but he did know that youth unmployment rose by 40 per cent under Labour and that David Miliband (a man he quotes at every available opportunity) had assured him that "this government did not invent the problem".
Miliband lamented the PM's complacency and urged him to tax bankers' bonuses to create a 100,000 jobs for young people. But Cameron hit back with a potent stat of his own. Labour, he claimed, had pledged to use the revenue from the tax for nine separate causes. It was "the bank tax that likes to say yes". The snappy soundbite roused the Tory benches but Miliband had a new line of his own. Cameron was blaming others again, it's his ABC - Anyone But Cameron. At least some Tory ministers will have discreetly nodded in agreement.
For the rest of the session, the two leaders stuck to the script. Miliband accused Cameron of treating unemployment as "a price worth paying to protect his failed plan", while Cameron asked why Labour alone believed that the solution to a debt crisis was more debt. What he omitted to mention was that his own government is set to borrow £109bn more than forecast at the time of the Spending Review. Labour's old charge that you can't have a credible deficit reduction plan without growth rings truer every day.
Cameron's response will be to argue that things would have been even worse under Labour, a claim that Miliband, in the absence of a time machine, can never wholly refute. Today's flat and repetitive exchanges were a reminder that the economic battle might not end in victory for one side but in a messy draw.