Those who have yet to buy a copy of Alistair Darling’s book on his time with the Great Sulk should rush out and get one, because it is the only way to make sense of the farce that was the first Prime Minister’s Questions since MPs took themselves off in July for their several holidays.
With the economy on its uppers, inflation on the increase and growth shrinking, we all knew what the hot topic of the day would be, as Ed (fresh from his nose job) set about Dave (poshly sunburnt; despite having to pop back to town for a few days because of the riots and Libya). Indeed, Ed had to be up for it following recent opinion polls showing Labour just a couple of percentage points ahead of the Tories, despite almost a year under his care.
And so Ed let Dave have it with both barrels: Why is the Government holding elections for police commissioners in November instead of next May?
Earlier, Dave had been seen in earnest last-minute conversations with Chancellor George (equally sun-tanned), being briefed on what tack to take when Ed launched his economy broadside; but this one seemed to stun him.
Indeed, the Commons fell silent for a moment as Members on all sides considered the import of this, the first question to the Prime Minister after such a tumultuous period in our national affairs.
The real reason for this question and the smile it brought to Dave’s face had been spotted tucked under his arm by an eagle-eyed reporter as he entered the Chamber: a well-thumbed copy of Alistair’s book.
The curse of the Ali/Alastairs is becoming a common thread in recent Labour history, and Alistair D’s intervention seems to be at least as unhelpful as many of those attributed to Alastair Campbell.
In the latest Alastair missive, details of his tortuous relationship with Gordon Brown and the Stasi-like behaviour of his team, led by enforcer Ed Balls, are revealed; not unlike the revelations of the books by the other A. It should be remembered that Ed M was praised for his bravery by keeping Ed B away from the Treasury brief when he first took over as leader. But that bold plan was quickly dropped when Alan Johnson, Ed’s odd choice for Shadow Chancellor, fell by the wayside.
Just to make matters worse, Darling recounts that Labour’s 2009 budget was conceived in chaos and resulted in a complete mess of an economic policy; a bit of a bummer, since this is the plan the Opposition is presently sticking to.
With Ed the Enforcer sitting just a couple of seats away, it was soon obvious that Ed the Leader had decided to bottle it. After the questions on police commissioners came questions on waiting lists, and Cameron’s grin only widened. “He’s on another planet” said Ed, with the look of a man who wished he could join him.
This let Dave in with the one answer to the Labour Leader he hadn’t expected to utter: “He doesn’t dare in six questions to mention the economy”. Even Nick smiled at that one.
With party conference season just around the corner, MPs back from their hols on Monday will be off again in just ten days for another three weeks of naval gazing. Dave must be delighted that despite presiding over the worst economic crisis for 60 years, he is still personally popular and his party almost up there with Labour in the polls. All he has to do is persuade the recidivists that the Lib Dems aren’t getting away with blue murder. Nick has to persuade his lot they are.
Ed Miliband should have had the easiest job of all, but with the recent polls and today’s performance, is the jury out again?
As Bill Clinton said: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions.