After two recent wins, today’s PMQs was not one that Ed Miliband will want to remember. Aided by positive employment and wage figures, praise from Barack Obama and Labour’s splits over the mansion tax, David Cameron got the better of him at every turn.
Miliband began by stating that, like the PM, he wanted to see the delayed Iraq inquiry published “as soon as possible”, later adding: “My views on the Iraq war are well-known [a reference to his opposition] and I want this inquiry published”. But Cameron had a riposte ready: if Miliband and his Labour colleagues had voted for an inquiry when it was first proposed “it would have been published years ago”. Miliband might have responded that Cameron, of course, had made the error of voting for the war itself. But the opportunity never quite came.
He then turned to the economy, deploying Labour’s stat of choice: that for the first time since the 1920s, living standards will be lower at the end of the parliament than they were at the start. But while this remains a potent charge, Cameron is now at least able to say that things are moving in the right direction. Inflation of just 0.5 per cent means that real wages rose by 1.3 per cent in the year to November. To most voters, it won’t feel as if the “cost-of-living crisis” is over (as Cameron wrongly claimed) but the improved figures will make these encounters far easier for the PM.
When Miliband later referred to Cameron as “the person who has failed on the deficit”, he riposted: “He criticises me on the deficit. He’s the man who couldn’t even remember the deficit.” Tory MPs relished it all. Visibly enjoying himself, Cameron went on to deploy Obama’s praise for the British economy (“I would note that Great Britain and the United States are two economies that are standing out at a time when a lot of other countries are having problems. So we must be doing something right”), declaring that: “They can’t talk about the economy because the IMF, the President of the United States all say the British economy is performing well.” On Labour’s internicine warfare over the mansion tax, he quipped: “They’ve got a homes tax that has done the impossible and united the Hon. Member for Hackney [Diane Abbott] with Peter Mandelson.” It was as cheering for the Tories as it was grim for Labour.
Miliband sought to end on a high note by crowbarring in Cameron’s avoidance of the TV debates (“If he’s so confident about leadership, why is he chickening out of the TV election debate?”). But it couldn’t help feeling rather desperate. With the Greens enjoying a Tory-induced surge in the polls, today’s session added to the sense that, this week at least, the wind is blowing in the Conservatives’ favour.