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16 February 2011

PMQs review: Cameron catches Miliband off guard

A rare moment of honesty from the PM on forestry blunts Labour leader’s attack.

By George Eaton

A cocktail of economic woes – high inflation, no growth and high unemployment – meant that Ed Miliband should have walked today’s PMQs. And, initially at least, he did. In response to the highest youth unemployment figures since 1992, all David Cameron would say was that the figures were “a matter of great regret”.

Miliband went on to recall that the PM once described the Future Jobs Fund (which will be scrapped next month) as a “good scheme” and said that he had been “inspired by what he saw”. Cameron’s persistent retort that youth unemployment was high throughout Labour’s time in office only drew attention to the fact that the coalition has made a bad situation worse.

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The Labour leader, sporting a new buzz cut, inevitably raised the Tories’ City internship auction, but Cameron responded by recalling Miliband’s own internships (courtesy of his father) with Tony Benn and the “deputy leader of the Labour Party”. This dubious line of attack was marred by Cameron’s distinctly unprogressive pay-off: “No wonder he’s so left-wing, so politically correct” (although the otherwise muted Tory benches cried: “More! More!”).

It was when Miliband turned to forestry that he came unstuck. Asked if he was happy with his government’s policy, Cameron disarmingly replied: “The short answer to that is – no.” He added that he was merely holding a consultation on the subject. The Labour leader was caught off guard, and his pre-prepared attack lines (“The man who made the tree the Tory party logo now wants to cut them down”) fell flat.

Cameron’s quip that Miliband “wrote his questions before he heard the answers” was smart enough to make up for his cringe-making remark that “the bandwagon has hit a tree”. The lesson was a simple one: sometimes, it pays to be honest.