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16 May 2012

PMQs review: The battle for economic credibility rolls on

Miliband lands some blows on Cameron in a somewhat rambling PMQs.

By Samira Shackle

At the best of times, PMQs can feel like little more than a sparring match, and there was nothing to disprove that today.

It has been a bad few weeks for David Cameron, and Ed Miliband was able to land a few easy blows.
He led on growth in Europe, using the opportunity to mock Cameron for “LOL-gate”. Talking about the Prime Minister’s relationship with Francois Hollande, Miliband said:  “It’s a shame you didn’t see the French president 3 months ago when he was in the UK. I’m sure text messages and LOL will go down just as well”. It was inevitable that this embarrassing revelation from last week’s Leveson inquiry would come up and Cameron had a somewhat bizarre pre-prepared comeback aimed at Gordon Brown – “At least I know how to use a mobile phone rather than throw it at the people who work for me”. In amongst the bickering, perhaps the most significant moment was Cameron saying that the eurozone should “make up or break up”.

Phone jokes aside, Miliband went hard on cuts to frontline services – the number of police officers and nurses – while Cameron accused him of weakness and dishonesty on the economy. The Labour leader shouted statistics about cuts to the frontline, Cameron responded by stressing backroom cuts. Essentially, it was all very familiar ground, albeit with a few snappy lines. “They cut taxes for millionaires, and services for everyone else,” said Miliband. The cut to the 50p tax rate is the gift that keeps on giving for the opposition. The after-effects of George Osborne’s noxious Budget will be felt for some time yet.

The polls this week have indicated that the public may be beginning to lose faith in the government’s handling of the economy, and Miliband capitalised on this. Perhaps his strongest line today was: “We’re in double dip recession, a recession made in Downing Street, made by the two of them”. If he can tackle the Tory narrative that they are simply clearing up the mess left for them by Labour – which is less convincing as time passes – he will go a significant way towards improving his party’s chances at the next election.

Cameron drew applause from his benches – and outrage on Twitter – when he implied that being left-wing was a problem in and of itself (“Is he weak or left-wing? The problem is, he’s both”).  Despite mocking his predecessor’s rage, Cameron’s temper was on show (“I’m very calm,” he joked at one point). Miliband highlighted this in a slightly forced – yet close to the bone – joke: “I know he’s going to have intensive training before he goes before Leveson. I think that should involve anger management”.

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All in all, a marginal win for Miliband, but a rather inconclusive and unedifying contest all round.