As I predicted, the Cameron-Miliband non-aggression pact lasted barely a week. Today’s PMQs was a brutal affair. Tony Blair memorably declared, “I bear the scars on my back after two years in government.” David Cameron bears them after just nine months. As expected, Ed Miliband led on “the big society”, which, to put it mildly, hasn’t enjoyed a good press this week. Where Labour once ridiculed the concept, it now presents it as a worthy project that the cuts will strangle at birth.
Cameron may have been right to point out that almost every member of the Commons “backs what we’re talking about” but few seemed impressed by his defence. As the Labour leader quoted critic after critic from the voluntary sector, the PM was forced to resort to his stock attack lines. He attacked Miliband for “jumping on every bandwagon” and damned Ed Balls as a “deficit denier”.
The Tory leader raised some cheers when he announced that the “big society bank” would receive £200m from Britain’s banks, but this will do little to reassure a sector that faces cuts of £1.1bn next year. A relaxed Miliband needed only to cite Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, the head of Community Service Volunteers, who warns that the cuts are “destroying the volunteer army”, and Paul Twivy, the former chief executive of the Big Society Network, who admits that the project is “increasingly loathed” by the public.
As Cameron’s temper reached new heights, Miliband stepped back from the despatch box and calmly replied: “He shouldn’t got so angry, it will cloud his judgement,” before adding the killer pay-off: “He’s not the first prime Minister I’ve said that to.” After today’s performance, this “son of Brown” has reminded us why he may succeed where his old boss failed.