Donald Macintyre's Sketch: David Cameron's high time at expense of the Opposition
He had his moments, as when he taunted Labour over support for an EU referendum
Donald Macintyre writes political sketches for The Independent, having been Jerusalem correspondent since 2004, covering Israel and the Occupied Territories, as well as travelling for the paper to Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Egypt. As Political Editor and then Chief Political Commentator, he previously covered the John Major and early Tony Blair era. He has written for the Daily Express, Sunday Times, Times and Sunday Telegraph, and Sunday Correspondent. He is the author of Mandelson and the Making of New Labour (2000).
Wednesday 05 June 2013
David Cameron accused Labour of doing "so many U-turns they should be having a grand prix". This was odd because U-turns – at least voluntary ones – are neither common nor advisable for Formula One drivers in mid-competition.
He was on surer ground with another metaphor, declaring: "I know that I have been the one on holiday in Ibiza..." – always good to pre-empt jokes about your tan-confirming, over-publicised week off – "... but the Opposition have been the ones taking policy-altering substances".
Yet was it sensible to lambast Ed Miliband for "complete confusion and weakness" over George Osborne's cut in child benefit for the well off, which Labour will now not reverse? Maybe it was an extension of the drug joke – a subliminal reference to the marijuana-fuelled Nineties teen movie Dazed and Confused? A better approach might have been silkily to congratulate Miliband and Ed Balls for adopting a Government policy they had previously attacked. "Welcome on board," he might have said, to maximise the discomfort. But had we really waited six weeks for this?
The Big Clash was over the A&E crisis, a statistics-crazed joust which Miliband won on points, not least because Cameron's main answer was to blame the 2004 GPs' contract once again, allowing the doctors to opt out of evening and weekend calls. It's true the contract was generous. But Miliband pointed out that A&E waits had fallen "dramatically" between 2004 and 2010.
Cameron had his moments, as when he taunted Miliband with reports that half the Shadow Cabinet – presumably including Balls – now favoured committing to a referendum on EU membership. "Hands up, who wants a referendum?" he asked the Labour frontbench. Balls and Miliband were deep in colloquy at this point, apparently to show their immunity to such trivia. Or maybe Balls was whispering to Miliband: "I'll put my hand up if you do."
The PM conspicuously evaded a good question from Labour's Ann McKechin on whether Osborne's help-to-buy scheme would "guarantee the mortgages of foreign citizens who buy property here". Enigmatically Cameron replied: "The Chancellor will set out details of this in the announcements that he plans to make."
If they weren't such chums you'd think this meant: "George dreamt up this crazy policy and he can jolly well get us out of it."
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