Let us hear it for Ed Miliband, who finally took the foot out of his own mouth today and stuck it firmly down the throat of David Cameron.
It helped that the subject was Europe and that the path to the Prime Minister’s tonsils had already been greased by buckets of unmentionable awfulness poured on him by former friends and eager foes.
But even outside help could not disguise the Labour leader’s pleasure at finally getting a hook into someone who has A-levels in being out of the room, if not out of the country, when the smelly stuff hits the fan. And of course that is why Dave cannot wriggle out of this one, since its out of the country where the problem lies. And you could see that is just where he wanted to be when Ed asked him what exactly he planned to do about Europe.
You could tell he was in trouble by the number of words used in the answer and the increasingly blank looks of those around him. Ed wanted to know which powers Dave would be asking Brussels to hand back to Britain in the event of a renegotiation of the treaty. Any proper answer to this question would drop Dave in it, so he mumbled, waved, pointed and threatened his way through a full set of sentences and sat down.
There was a short silence as the listeners translated what he had said back into English and realised they had just lost two minutes out of their lives. Dropping Johnny Foreigner into the conversation is still enough to get handfuls of votes for Tory wannabe’s, and pledging to widen the English Channel will certainly win the backing of such democratic institutions as the Sun and the Daily Mail; not to mention the usual suspects at the Daily Telegraph.
But the relative silence in the House of Commons during Prime Ministers Questions made you wonder just how many had really meant their anti-European stance, now that doing something about it might be a possibility.
As Dave dodged, dived and rambled on, further down the front bench slumped — but not quite sleeping — sat Ken Clarke, who had further rattled his leader by saying out loud earlier what Dave wants to say but dare not: that no powers can be won back and he was only joking if anyone thought he wanted a referendum.
Ken, who must check under his ministerial car every night, slumped further when Dave was asked if he agreed with him. Tory MP after MP was sweetness and light as they questioned Dave over his plans, but a study of his coded replies revealed only that he wasn’t going to hang himself today.
As he rambled on, his Deputy Nick looked alternately pained and alarmed at what was going on. He knows a referendum would crush the Coalition and any draw back from Europe would be deadly for him.
As PMQs staggered towards closing time the Father of the House, Sir Peter Tapsell, shook himself awake and asked Dave to make sure when he is in Brussels to ask the Germans to study the Boston Tea Party. “No taxation without representation”, said Sir Peter, as MPs cheered and wondered if he had been around for the original drafting.
Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions.