It was never going to be easy, once Sir John Major had trained his flame-thrower on the Government by proposing a windfall tax on the utilities. But there were too many signs that David Cameron was in deep trouble from the opening of Prime Minister’s Questions not to realise this was a parliamentary train wreck in the making.
An early signal that he was rattled came when he found himself rebuked by the Speaker for lashing out at Ed Miliband, by calling him a “conman” for showing his “heart was in the right place” [copyright J Major] by suggesting a price freeze on the energy companies.
It soon became more serious. When obliged to come up with an answer of his own to the energy bills problem, he chose “rolling back… green charges” – public subsidies for renewables – as his policy. It’s a measure that currently has little chance of getting approval in the Coalition, if the stony face of Nick Clegg sitting beside him – not to mention the ostentatiously shaking head of LibDem front bencher Tom Brake – is anything to go by.
But perhaps the surest sign was yet to come.
Cameron was reminded by Miliband that, “of course, John Major was a Conservative Prime Minister who won a majority, unlike this Prime Minister”. In return, he dissed his opponent by gratuitously attacking the equally absent Lord (Neil) Kinnock. Yes, said Cameron, Sir John had beaten “a weak and incredible Labour leader. Is that not rather familiar?”
This managed to be ungracious to both the main men in 1992: Kinnock, who was tough enough to defeat the left’s supporters of a barmy defence policy and help pave the way for Tony Blair’s modernisation of Labour, and Major, for suggesting – no doubt in the heat of the moment – that he only won because of his opponent.
No doubt Miliband was facing an open goal. But even the best strikers miss sometimes – and on probably his best Wednesday since 2010, he didn’t, from his first question onwards. “The Prime Minister has said that anyone who wanted to intervene directly in energy markets was living in ‘a Marxist universe’,” he said. “Can he tell the House how he feels now that the red peril has claimed Sir John Major?”
But the real winner was elsewhere. After years of being taunted by Blair, John Major finally had his victory at Prime Minister’s Questions.Reuse content