To give David Cameron his due, he managed to say what George Osborne could not at today’s PMQs. After his Chancellor’s “leaves on the line” excuse for yesterday’s disastrous growth figures, the Prime Minister admitted that the news was “disappointing” even when “you’ve excluded what the ONS say about the extreme weather”.
Had Ed Miliband failed to get the better of the PM today, one could reasonably argue that he shouldn’t be in the business of politics. And, with the exception of one notable misstep, he didn’t fail.
Cameron repeated his mantra that “if you don’t deal with your debts, you’ll never have growth”. To which the Labour leader, quick as a flash, shot back: “If you don’t have growth, you’ll never cut the deficit.” Though few Conservatives will admit as much, the facts support Miliband. The deficit for 2009-2010 came in at £156.3bn (£21.7bn lower than the original Treasury forecast), a sign that Labour’s policy of “going for growth” was beginning to fill the hole in the public finances.
The Prime Minister may have repeated his complaint that Miliband’s lines were pre-scripted, but they were no less effective for it: “The difference was that when we left office, the economy was growing, now he’s in office and it isn’t”, “He knows how to cut jobs but has no idea how to create them”, and “It’s hurting but it isn’t working” (an inversion of John Major’s memorable slogan “It hurt but it worked”).
Cameron’s insistence that we should be grateful that Britain is no longer linked with “countries like Greece and Ireland and Portugal” is less impressive when one recalls that the same man boasted that the recovery was gaining momentum under his government.
Miliband stumbled when he contrasted his wise decision to appoint Ed Balls as shadow chancellor with Cameron’s foolish decision to cling to Andy Coulson. The PM was liberated to deliver his finest riposte since “son of Brown”: if Miliband thinks Balls is such a good man, why didn’t he appoint him in the first place?
Cameron just about shrugged off Miliband’s claim that he is “arrogant” and “out of touch with people’s lives”, but it was the Labour benches who cheered when the Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, resplendent in a double-breasted suit, invited the Prime Minister to endorse Margaret Thatcher’s view that “there is no alternative”. The PM squirmed in his seat but rose to provide Rees-Mogg with the answer he was looking for. Labour MPs were left to cheer the political equivalent of an own goal.