Whisper it, but Ed Miliband is on a bit of a roll. He emerged as the winner from today’s PMQs thanks to another precise question – this time on DNA and rape suspects – that Cameron struggled to answer.
Miliband warned that the the government’s plan to discard the DNA records of those “arrested but not charged with rape” could lead to a fall in the conviction rate. Cameron promised to look into the issue but added that the government inherited a “broken DNA system”. Sensing blood, Miliband pointed out that the law was already in the Commons, why is it right to discard suspects’ DNA?
But rather than answering the question, Cameron used this an opportunity to recite the story that Ed Balls did not brief the shadow cabinet on his VAT plan. John Bercow, who was on lively form on the second anniversary of his election as speaker, quite rightly cut the Prime Minister off for not answering Miliband’s question. It would have been careless of Cameron not to raise the story but he undoubtedly picked the wrong moment to do so. He responded to a question on rape with an answer on VAT.
From this point onwards, Miliband’s victory was secure. The Labour leader ably rebutted Cameron’s boast that his ministers “actually talk to each other” by quipping that the PM “should talk to his colleagues before they put forward a policy not afterwards.” Cameron eventually pointed out that the police can retain DNA records in certain cases but the damage was done.
Miliband’s new PMQs strategy – asking Cameron precise, technical questions in a bid to trip him up – is serving him well. Once again, the Labour leader buttressed his argument with charitable research; last week it was Macmillan Cancer Support, this week it was Rape Crisis. It was another example of how politicians can use third parties to strengthen their cause. No Prime Minister, certainly not Cameron, wants to pick a fight with a charity.
The earlier exchanges between Cameron and Miliband on Libya (Miliband split his questions this week) contained little of note, although the Labour leader said it was “crass and high handed” of Cameron to tell military chiefs: “You do the fighting and I’ll do the talking.”
As an aside, it’s worth noting that Cameron debuted a new line today. In response to Balls’s proposed VAT cut, he declared: “Labour’s Plan B stands for bankruptcy.” It’s safe to say we’ll be hearing that a lot more over the coming weeks.