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14 September 2011

PMQs sketch: Ed fights back

A re-energised Ed Miliband challenges David Cameron on the economy in the run up to this year's part

By Peter McHugh

Can it only be ten days since MPs came back for their six week summer break and can it only be another 48 hours before they disappear until 11 October? This was but one of the questions not answered during the last PMQs of the present parliamentary session which has gone on for a fortnight.

Another slightly more important query, also unanswered, was “whither the economy?” asked by someone about whom, to borrow a phrase from infamous football pundit Andy Gray, “questions are also being asked”, the leader of the Labour Party. An opinion poll reports that 49 per cent of Labour supporters cannot see Ed Miliband as Prime Minister. Last week he added to this concern by failing to pin the economic tail on David Cameron despite grim financial news. But he wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice and with all the energy of someone who looked as if he had spent the night with his fingers jammed into a nearby electric socket, demanded to know what Dave’s plans were.

Now Tory insiders say the Prime Minister didn’t get where he is today by bothering himself with the detail and so it was at PMQs where huffing and puffing seemed the main answer to the newly re-charged Ed. You can always tell when Dave is in trouble when ruddy red starts to spread northwards out of his collar. Normally on economic matters he turns to his BF George for guidance but the Chancellor had been edged out of his regular seat by his side and sat slumped and silent with the look of someone with constipation who had forgotten where the lavatory was situated.

His face screwed up even further when Ed said he was “lashed to the mast” of economic Plan A despite the rapidly changing circumstances. “Not for the first time” added Ed in an apparent reference to claims this week by a 1990’s Miss Whiplash that she and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been bosom buddies in previous days. George has always denied that a photograph of he and Miss W which also included some Daz-type powder was anything more than a night out with the boys — and girls.

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But this wasn’t the week he wanted her back in the news over a claim of phone-hacking by the News of the World during the time of Andy Coulson whom George is said to have championed as chief mouthpiece for Dave. Even his own side sniggered as the bully was bullied and Ed sat down with the self satisfied smile of someone who knew he had finally got it right, albeit a week late.

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Our representatives will now spend the next three weeks at party conferences in parts of the country most would never voluntarily visit but luckily with security precautions strong enough to keep the locals, if not out of sight, at least out of touch. But despite all the security the delegates at least are allowed to get up close and personal, unless of course you’re from Middlesbrough where Labour’s Sir Stuart Bell has not deigned to hold a surgery for constituents for 14 years. Despite the attractiveness of Sir Stuart’s approach our leaders know they have to put themselves through this annual re-affirmation process to hang on to their jobs.

PMQs is a stage lost for the Deputy Prime Minister and Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg. All he can do is sit silently, thumb in mouth, as the world swirls around him. Now and again Labour will taunt him and now and again so will the Tories leaving only Dave to give him an occasional rub if he remembers. But even he forgot yesterday as Plan A came under constant attack.

But unknown to many in the room Nick had been first out of the traps earlier with Plan C. This is a plan to get Nick out of trouble this weekend when the Lib Dems meet to review their position 16 months into the coalition. Nick and his party Cabinet colleagues know what they have got out of the deal power, salaries and chauffeur-drivens .But all the party has to look at is a ten per cent share of the popular vote enough to guarantee a return to oblivion.

Plan Clegg said 40 Government projects would apparently be advanced to face the “dangerous new phase” of economic troubles we face. Sadly a bit of rooting around in its entrails revealed the Plan C is only a promise to make bits of Plan A work on time.

And despite victory at PMQs Ed will still have a harder time than desired when he turns up in Liverpool to mark his first year in charge. He will try to distance himself from the unions which gave him power. Particularly as they head down the difficult road of strikes over public sector pensions but he cannot yet bite the hand that feeds, not to mention the one that, for the moment, still votes.

Ironically the one with the least to fear is Dave who despite Ed’s battering and Plan A still seems to be swearing the Teflon top coat he must have found in Tony’s old wardrobe in Number 10. Luckily for Dave the Tory Party conference has no power whatsoever. The Lib-Dems neuter his nutters leaving him and George to get on with it. Unemployment is mainly in areas where Tories travel in groups and maybe as D:ream so memorably sang: “Things can only get better”.

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