After two weeks away on paternity leave, Ed Miliband delivered the winning performance he needed today. He skilfully exploited cabinet divisions on school sports funding and bank transparency, with David Cameron forced to resort to empty insults.
The planned cuts to school sport, which have attracted dissent from Nick Clegg and Andrew Lansley, were defended by Cameron as an alternative to Labour’s profligacy. He said: “What we experienced over the last decade was a lot of money put into school sport, but we didn’t see a lot of progress.” He added: “The time for endlessly telling headteachers what to do and how to spend their money is over.”
But Miliband countered well with a quote from a sports co-ordinator in Cameron’s own constituency: “I am devastated to witness the potential demise of this legacy with the sweep of Mr Gove’s pen.” In a rare flash of anger, Miliband denounced the Education Secretary as “high-handed, incompetent and unfair”.
For the first time this week, Miliband split his questions into two halves, so after three questions on school sport, he returned with three questions on bank transparency, the issue currently dividing Vince Cable and George Osborne. In defiance of Cable, the Prime Minister suggested that the government would wait for pan-European agreement on pay transparency, rather than going it alone. Adopting an unnecessarily haughty tone, Cameron said he would listen to regulation expert David Walker, rather than Miliband, who “knows nothing about anything”. But for the second time, the PM had been forced to gloss over all-too-obvious divisions in his cabinet.
Cameron eventually rallied with a punchy assault on Miliband’s record in government: “He was in the Treasury when they didn’t regulate the banks, he was in Treasury when they had the biggest boom and bust, he was in the Treasury when they rewarded Fred the Shred with a knighthood.” To which Miliband nimbly replied: “He was there on Black Wednesday.”
Having previously denounced Labour’s leader as “Red Ed”, the Conservatives now aim to present him as “unready Eddie”. Cameron ended: “He’s got nothing to stay about the deficit, nothing to say about regulation, he’s just the nowhere man of British politics.” But his exaggerated attacks only added to the impression that he had been outclassed by Miliband. Cameron’s haughtiness may cheer his backbenchers, but to the voters it suggests a man losing the argument.