Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Freudian slip was just the tonic for sick Ed Miliband


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Indy Politics

Most people hearing a croaking Ed Miliband gamely explaining that “I am speaking through a sore throat, but I would not have missed this meeting with the Prime Minister for the world” would think: “For goodness sake, why didn’t you call in sick?”

Maybe even Ed Balls, not in his usual place beside the Labour leader, but separated from him by Shadow Scottish Secretary Margaret Curran, thus ungallantly ensuring that she – or his other neighbour Harriet Harman – would pick up whatever germs he was spreading.

But that ignores the burden of modern political leadership. Not only would an absent Miliband have been accused of dodging PMQs on a day that unemployment fell to 6 per cent, but his disappearance would have generated the kind of  “Has he got gout or has he been deposed?” speculation that followed that of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. And without the friendly press.

But then he had another reason for turning up and braving Cameron’s unsympathetic crack: “I hope that if he gets a doctor’s appointment, he won’t forget it!” And that was the combustible quote from Lord Freud, in which the minister who once boasted of having invented the bedroom tax, had apparently accepted the idea that some disabled people were not “worth” the minimum wage.

Disavowing the – yes, let’s get it over with – Freudian slip, a palpably angry Cameron declared: “Those are not the views of the Government. They are not the views of anyone in the Government.” The second sentence was not strictly accurate, at least when the PM said it.  It only became so shortly after PMQs when Downing Street officials gave the peer the choice of saying they were not his views or making use of the loaded gun they had brought along just in case. He chose the less heroic course.

Miliband had countered Cameron’s gag about his conference speech by saying: “I lost a couple of paragraphs… he has lost a couple of his Members of Parliament.” Which drew attention to the presence of Ukip’s new MP Douglas Carswell. But Cameron, anxious no doubt to provoke any further defections, was much nicer to Carswell than he had been to Miliband. When Carswell asked innocuously for a toughened Bill on recalling MPs, the PM even implied he rather agreed with him.  

Surreally, Carswell was wedged on an opposition bench between two rather uncomfortable-looking Labour MPs – Michael McCann and Barry Gardiner. Tactfully they both left just before the end of PMQs, presumably to avoid any post-match banter with their toxic neighbour.

Unfortunately the same course was not open to Ms Harman or Ms Curran. You have to fear for their health over the coming days.