Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
2 February 2011

PMQs review: Miliband and Cameron unite

A very civilised PMQs as the leaders calmly agree on Afghanistan and Egypt.

By George Eaton

After weeks of increasingly fractious debate between Ed Miliband and David Cameron on the economy, this was the most civilised PMQs in recent memory. Fresh from his recent visit to Afghanistan, the Labour leader asked Cameron a series of statesmanlike questions on the war and the tumultuous events in Cairo.

At times, Miliband’s questions verged on the platitudinous (“Would the Prime Minister like to see an orderly transition to democracy in Egypt?”) but, given the UK’s sordid history of collusion with Hosni Mubarak, they were more pertinent than they appeared.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

While public opinion on Afghanistan is increasingly divided, the bipartisan consensus on the issue remains as strong as ever. Miliband and Cameron are in agreement on the timetable for withdrawal and the need for a political settlement in the country, including reaching out to insurgent groups.

As the Labour leader quipped at one point, “I sense, Mr Speaker, that people aren’t used to this kind of PMQs.” To which Cameron replied: “I’m sure he’s right. People would prefer a bunfight, but sometimes it is good to have a serious conversation about issues.”

The background grumblings from Labour MPs suggested that “a bunfight” was exactly what they wanted. Many hoped that Miliband would lead on the IFS warning that the cuts could prove “formidably hard to deliver” and that George Osborne needs a plan B.

But others may hope that this paves the way for more constructive PMQs in the future. If so, they are likely to be disappointed. For the sake of national unity, British leaders often strive to agree on foreign policy and the bipartisan consensus on Afghanistan pre-dates the arrival of both Miliband and Cameron.

After the initial pleasantries, Cameron showed a hint of menace when he damned Ed Balls as a “deficit denier”. Expect to hear a lot of more about that and a lot less about “working together” in the weeks to come.