Prime Minister's Questions: Ed Miliband taunts David Cameron over Lords reform

 

A red mist seemed to descend over the House of Commons today as the final session of Prime Minister's Questions before the summer break turned into a slanging match between David Cameron and Ed Miliband.

As temperatures rose, the Labour leader drew attention to the colour rising in the Prime Minister's cheeks, taunting him: "The redder he gets, the less he convinces people."

Mr Cameron struck back by telling MPs: "There's only one person who's red round here, and that's Red Ed, running the Labour Party."

After the rebellion of 91 Tory MPs over Lords reform last night, Mr Miliband came to the Commons determined to remind voters of a six-month period which Labour believes has seen a succession of disasters for the Government.

Rather than get into the details of the reform package - on which Labour voted with the Government last night - Mr Miliband reeled off an increasingly familiar list of charges against the Prime Minister which he hopes will define him in the public's minds.

Reminding Mr Cameron he is reported to have said he wanted to be PM "because I think I would be good at it", Mr Miliband asked him: "Where did it go wrong?"

He accused the Prime Minister of losing control not only of his MPs but also of his temper in the Commons last night, describing Mr Cameron's confrontation with leading Tory rebel Jesse Norman as "fisticuffs in the lobby".

Mr Norman was not in the chamber for today's PMQs, noted Mr Miliband, and he added: "The posh boys have ordered him off the estate."

Mr Cameron was "out of touch", leading a Government in "disarray" which had produced "U-turn after U-turn after U-turn" and "a double-dip recession made in Downing Street", and was "blaming everyone but himself", said Mr Miliband.

In a display of the increasing confidence he has shown in recent clashes with the PM over the despatch box, he responded quickly to backbench Tory heckles of "weak" by shooting back: "What could be weaker than having 91 people vote against you in the House of Commons?"

Perhaps aware that the timetabling of debate on House of Lords reform was not a subject on which the average voter feels much passion, the Labour leader turned his fire once again on Chancellor George Osborne's March Budget, which Mr Miliband feels has undermined the Government's reputation for economic competence and fairness.

Mr Osborne had "made the wrong choices and stood up for the wrong people", giving a tax cut to millionaires while raising taxes for pensioners, he said.

Mr Cameron responded with a broadside at Labour: "We will never forget what we were left by the party opposite - they were bailing out eurozone countries with taxpayers' money, paying £100,000 for just one family's housing benefit, they had uncontrolled welfare and uncontrolled immigration, uncontrolled government spending.

"Never has so much been borrowed, never has so much been wasted, never have so many people been let down. The country will never forgive them for what they did."

As the PM's voice rose, the faces of the Labour front bench lit up, as if they had been hoping Mr Cameron would allow himself to be goaded into showing a flash of anger.

Mr Miliband delivered his joke about the PM's red face, telling him: "It's the same old lecture we've had on the economy for the last two years and things are getting worse, not better. He didn't just lose the confidence of his party last night, he is losing the confidence of the country."

Mr Cameron retorted with his "Red Ed" jibe, asking MPs: "Who backed Red Ken Livingstone? They did. Who backed Red Len McCluskey? He did. Who opposed every measure to deal with the deficit, proposed £30 billion more spending, who is giving the unions even more say?

"Let's see what he has done in the last year - opposed an immigration cap, opposed a welfare cap, opposed a housing benefit cap, opposed every single measure to cut the deficit.

"We know what he is against, but when on Earth are we going to find out what he is for?"

By this point, with backbenchers on both sides bellowing support and abuse, decibel levels in the chamber had reached such a pitch that luckless Tory MP Anne Marie Morris, who was next to speak, struggled to make herself heard over the din.

As she gamely attempted to put her question about colleges to the Prime Minister, the Newton Abbot MP, who had one arm in a sling, gesticulated ever more wildly with the other arm and raised her voice ever higher in the hope of getting her point across.

All in all, it was not so much a session of reasoned debate on the issues of the day as a mud-slinging contest with more than a hint of end-of-term hysteria among MPs who were clearly looking forward to their summer break.

PA

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