PMQs sketch: For Miliband it wasn't as easy as ABC

It sounded as if Ed M's summer nose job had finally kicked in, but it turned out to be just a heavy

It was when a Tory MP suggested that parents should take their children to work during next week's public sector strike that you realised Prime Minister's Questions was just a try-out for the real thing.

There they sat fidgeting, staring off into space, whispering to their pals, ties askew, waiting for the lunch bell, and that was just the Government side of the House. Opposite, equally unruly and even noisier -- as befits their rather ruder upbringing -- the boys and girls from the local comp.

It was meant to be a different day when deep economic matters would be discussed in the run-up to next week's Autumn Statement by the Chancellor, when he will reveal that we are up to our necks in it -- but luckier than the others who are busy swallowing the stuff.

Indeed George was there, chewing on his lip, braced for the inevitable spanking from Labour for his part in the ongoing drama. Just to add to the excitement we had learned earlier in the day that "We-are-all-in-this-together" Dave had just forked out £140,000 to buy a field next to his constituency home without needing any help from his bank manager. What an added bonus for Ed M, who had started off his day by being awarded the phrase of the year prize for inventing "squeezed middle". Surely this was going to be his day.

PMQs kicked off with an early moan from a member of the Government side about next week's strike in what observers thought was just a way of giving Tory MPs a chance to clear their throats before the session started in earnest.

Labour spirits lifted when Ed stood up and launched into his attack on the Government's jobs record. Dave had managed in 18 months what Labour never did in 13 years; push youth unemployment over 1m. As he spoke, he sounded as if his summer nose job had finally kicked, in but as he continued it appeared that it was just a bad cold.

He tried to pin down Dave but even the constant encouragement of Ed B, forever barracking from the sidelines, seemed unable to provide the energy necessary to get a grip on the PM, already a past master in ducking and diving.

Ed threw in his sound bite with the charge that Dave never takes the blame. ABC -- Anyone But Cameron -- he said, but you wondered if his heart was in it. His enthusiasm cannot have been helped by the poll revelation that 18 months on more people still blame Labour than the Coalition for our economic woes.

He tried to hit Dave with another demand for a bankers' bonus tax, this time to help the young unemployed. But the PM swatted him off with a list of nine uses he said Labour had already ear-marked the tax for. "This is a bank tax that likes to say yes", said the PM with all the pleasure of delivering a well-rehearsed line.

Three Tory MPs managed independently -- and no doubt without conferring -- to ask the PM to explain just how wrong, selfish, undemocratic and unrepresentative next week's strike would be. Dave could not agree more, and yes, he does agree with MP Louise Mensch that people should take their kids to work if schools are closed by strikes next week.

When not an MP, Mrs Mensch is a writer of fiction.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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Inside a shaken city: "I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester”

The morning after the bombing of the Manchester Arena has left the city's residents jumpy.

On Tuesday morning, the streets in Manchester city centre were eerily silent.

The commuter hub of Victoria Station - which backs onto the arena - was closed as police combed the area for clues, and despite Mayor Andy Burnham’s line of "business as usual", it looked like people were staying away.

Manchester Arena is the second largest indoor concert venue in Europe. With a capacity crowd of 18,000, on Monday night the venue was packed with young people from around the country - at least 22 of whom will never come home. At around 10.33pm, a suicide bomber detonated his device near the exit. Among the dead was an eight-year-old girl. Many more victims remain in hospital. 

Those Mancunians who were not alerted by the sirens woke to the news of their city's worst terrorist attack. Still, as the day went on, the city’s hubbub soon returned and, by lunchtime, there were shoppers and workers milling around Exchange Square and the town hall.

Tourists snapped images of the Albert Square building in the sunshine, and some even asked police for photographs like any other day.

But throughout the morning there were rumours and speculation about further incidents - the Arndale Centre was closed for a period after 11.40am while swathes of police descended, shutting off the main city centre thoroughfare of Market Street.

Corporation Street - closed off at Exchange Square - was at the centre of the city’s IRA blast. A postbox which survived the 1996 bombing stood in the foreground while officers stood guard, police tape fluttering around cordoned-off spaces.

It’s true that the streets of Manchester have known horror before, but not like this.

I spoke to students Beth and Melissa who were in the bustling centre when they saw people running from two different directions.

They vanished and ducked into River Island, when an alert came over the tannoy, and a staff member herded them through the back door onto the street.

“There were so many police stood outside the Arndale, it was so frightening,” Melissa told me.

“We thought it will be fine, it’ll be safe after last night. There were police everywhere walking in, and we felt like it would be fine.”

Beth said that they had planned a day of shopping, and weren’t put off by the attack.

“We heard about the arena this morning but we decided to come into the city, we were watching it all these morning, but you can’t let this stop you.”

They remembered the 1996 Arndale bombing, but added: “we were too young to really understand”.

And even now they’re older, they still did not really understand what had happened to the city.

“Theres nowhere to go, where’s safe? I just want to go home,” Melissa said. “I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester.”

Manchester has seen this sort of thing before - but so long ago that the stunned city dwellers are at a loss. In a city which feels under siege, no one is quite sure how anyone can keep us safe from an unknown threat

“We saw armed police on the streets - there were loads just then," Melissa said. "I trust them to keep us safe.”

But other observers were less comforted by the sign of firearms.

Ben, who I encountered standing outside an office block on Corporation Street watching the police, was not too forthcoming, except to say “They don’t know what they’re looking for, do they?” as I passed.

The spirit of the city is often invoked, and ahead of a vigil tonight in Albert Square, there will be solidarity and strength from the capital of the North.

But the community values which Mancunians hold dear are shaken to the core by what has happened here.

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