When your back is as firmly against the wall as Ed Miliband’s you seek help anywhere you can find it and today it came in the rotund shape of one Alexander Eliot Anderson Salmond First Minister of Scotland. After experiencing the annus horibilis of his political life in one week, Ed turned up at the first Prime Ministers Questions of the New Year with all the obvious pleasure of a condemned man being asked to drive himself to the gallows.
Even as he set out he received the happy news that after 20 months presiding over the worst economic crisis since 1929 the latest opinion polls give the Government a 40% share, exactly the same as that of Labour. Buoyed up with that news, not to mention the fullsome advice from former friends and foe to beef up his performance, it was unsuprising that he looked a tad nervous not helped by the welcoming cheers of the refreshed Tory boot boys and girls happy to see him humiliated further.
His nerves had not been helped by his mugging by John Humphries on The Meet John Humphries Programme just 24 hours earlier and a less than fiery non-relaunch of Labour’s programme for the future. It was against this background that his advisors had to come up with a cunning plan to persuade both party and country that Ed could have the occasional good days to balance out the bad.
The shelves in the cunning plan shop were clearly empty so Ed’ s team turned to a tried and tested formula to keep him out of trouble — bore your way through. Prime Minister Dave, whose own star has been on a par recently with that seen over Bethlehem, could not wait to get at the Labour leader and seemed non-plussed to be asked about rail fares from Bedford to London. The 500 MPs for whose constituents commuting is not a problem looked elsewhere as the two left the audience behind in an argument about who should take the most blame.
As a tactic it worked since Dave did not get a chance to open the book of Ed insults he had clearly got for Christmas and had brought with him to the Chamber. But the purpose of PMQs is two-fold, first to encourage the troops and discourage the opposition and secondly to get a sound-bite for the evening news.
Ed’s record on the first has been somewhat patchy and early success against Dave has only served to bring out the years of bully-boy behaviour so attractive in Britain’s ruling class and its Thatcher adherents. Even on the sound-bite front Dave has managed to pull off more wins than losses in recent weeks and Ed’s boys knew another victory would only lead to even more smelly stuff being poured on their man.
With that in mind they decided to play the Armageddon card — Scotland — to guarantee success. Dave and Ed might hold each other in mutual contempt but that counts as nought for the the lack of fraternal feelings they have for the man who sailed to substantial victory in Scotland, SNP leader Alex Salmond. It is not enough that the Tory Party has, as one SNP member put it, “less MPs than Panda’s in Edinburgh Zoo” or that Labour, once controllers of Scottish politics, are now a rump party, but it is the sheer perceived smugness of Alex that really upsets them. Not only do they know he has shafted them but he is happy to remind them at any opportunity and never more so than this week as Dave tried to remind him that the UK still has the U bit at the front.
With the timing and wording of whither Scotland now firmly on the agenda it is one of the few subjects guaranteeing unanimity between Ed and Dave. Ed was right said Dave and Dave was right said Ed as both pledged to work together against the Alex effect. Even the Commons seemed stunned into silence by this sudden outburst of unanimity.
It got Ed through this PMQs but the trouble with Armageddon is coming up with the sequel.
Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions.