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  1. Politics
9 March 2011

PMQs review: same old insults, but little real substance

Ed Miliband’s attack lines are increasingly clear – competence and class.

By Samira Shackle

Today’s PMQs was full of exactly the type of sloganeering and personal put-downs that the public is said to hate. Yet, amid the exchange of insults, the session clearly set out Ed Miliband’s lines of attack against the Tories: competence and class.

After a week that has brought intensifying speculation about William Hague’s future in cabinet following a series of disasters on Libya, there was certainly plenty of ammunition for the first – though the potential to really hammer the coalition was lost as the discussion descended into trading of insults.

Miliband opened by asking about last week’s botched SAS mission to Benghazi. David Cameron attempted to turn the fire back on Labour, saying: “I’m not sure I want to take a lecture from Labour about dealing with Gaddafi.” But this sounded like the deflection it was – which Miliband wasted no time in pointing out: “Everyone will have heard the deafening silence.”

In a refrain that is starting to sound distinctly tired, Cameron raised the spectre of David Miliband, responding to a question about Hague’s future with: “There’s only one person here guilty of knifing a foreign secretary and I’m looking at him.” Miliband’s response to this – “The more he brings my relatives into this argument, the more you know he is losing” – was obviously pre-scripted, but true nonetheless. While it was a good reply, it is a shame that the discussion of the coalition’s botched action in Libya was not pursued.

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The other big issue of the day was policing. Here, too, the discussion was quickly sidetracked, with Miliband’s second – rather familiar – line of attack becoming clear. “Ten months and so out of touch with people up and down this country,” he said, following up with the line: “The Prime Minister may act like he’s born to rule, but he’s not very good at it.”

Cameron regained some points by accusing Miliband of “opportunism” and pointing out Labour’s lack of any clear alternative on policing, NHS reform or deficit reduction. He ended with an effective put-down, quoting David Miliband‘s piece in yesterday’s Times, which decried a “deficit of ideas” on the left.

All in all, there were accomplished digs from both sides, but the political point-scoring detracted from any discussion of real substance.