Today’s PMQs was not a good one for David Cameron. He held his own during his exchanges with Ed Miliband on Liam Fox but floundered on the economy. By the end, the man who spread the myth that Britain was on “the brink of bankruptcy”, had resorted to accusing the Labour leader of “talking down the economy”.
Yet the session did not begin unpromisingly for the Prime Minister. He batted away Miliband’s questions on Fox, noting that the Defence Secretary had at least resigned over his behaviour, “not something that always happened in the last 13 years.” It was precisely for this reason that Miliband struggled to land a blow on Cameron, only coming close when he noted that the PM had seen “his defence secretary resign in disgrace and his spin doctor arrested, is this what he meant by being different?” Cameron hit back: “If you’re going to jump on a bandwagon, make sure that it’s still moving.”
In a tacit acknowledgment that the sting had gone from the story, Miliband devoted his remaining three questions to the economy. Here, he was on strong ground. Britain has one of the lowest rates of growth in Europe and one of the highest rates of inflation. Miliband repeated his favourite question: “does the Prime Minister still think his plan is working?” Refusing to give a direct answer, Cameron recited the stock explanations for high inflation “world food prices, world fuel prices, the depreciation of sterling”. Miliband enjoys raising the subject of inflation because it gives him another chance to attack the coalition’s VAT rise (which added 1.5 per cent to annual inflation), although it’s worth noting that the UK would have above-average inflation even without this tax increase.
The Labour leader went on to repeat his new trick: identifying a government growth policy that is failing. Last week it was the National Insurance holiday, this week it was the Regional Growth Fund. The Treasury had issued 22 press releases on the fund but it had helped just two businesses. Yes, two. Across the floor, George Osborne looked as shocked and surprised as anyone. This is the second week in a row that Miliband has beaten Cameron on the economy (a subject he previously struggled on), a sign that it is becoming ever harder for the PM to defend Plan A.