It has come to something when Labour backbenchers have to do the leader’s job for him. Stella Creasy asked the first question of the Prime Minister: “Which is more important, protecting our armed forces or tax cuts?” It was a good question, as proven by David Cameron’s failure to answer it.
Then Ed Miliband stood up and asked a question about the TV debates. No one really heard what the question was, because as soon as the House realised what it was about the Conservatives jeered and Labour MPs looked like balloonists whose balloon has caught fire. Looking at the Labour benches it was written in all their faces. They thought it was pathetic and unleaderly to ask about political processes. One or two inveterate hecklers among Labour MPs, it is true, enjoy making chicken noises at the Prime Minister, but that only confirms the impression of deep gloom on the Labour side.
Cameron’s position on the debates is weak and reprehensible, but for Miliband to devote all six of his questions to it shows a lack of proportion. The best the Prime Minister could do was to say: “He wants to talk about the future of a television programme; I want to talk about the future of the country.” It wasn’t great but it was enough to get him through the session without looking like the calculating, risk-averse coward that he is. And he has the chutzpah to call Miliband “weak and despicable”.
The 9 worst car crash interviews in recent politics
The 9 worst car crash interviews in recent politics
1/6 Chloe Smith on Newsnight
George Osborne was enjoying a good day as he scrapped a planned 3p rise in fuel duty in June, 2012. But then someone had the bright idea of putting Chloe Smith, a junior Treasury minister and then something of a rising star for the Tories, on Newsnight. But she was unable to convincingly answer a single question posed to her by Jeremy Paxman, even the ultimate killer blow: “Do you ever think you’re incompetent?”
2/6 Boris Johnson on Andrew Marr
Eddie Mair, standing in for Mr Marr during his stroke recovery, might have been seen as something of a soft touch in March 2013 before he destroyed the London Mayor on the BBC’s flagship Sunday current affairs show. Mair presented a series of anecdotes about the harsher side to the fluffy-seeming Mr Johnson’s rise to power and concluded: “You’re a nasty piece of work, aren’t you?” Boris didn’t quite seem to know how to respond.
3/6 Ed Miliband on Good Morning Britain
Labour’s leader faced some slightly inevitable accusations of being “out of touch with reality” from ITV’s Susannah Reid after she surprised him with a “how much does X cost question”. This time it was during an interview on how much he knew about his much-vaunted “cost of living crisis” – and Mr Miliband underestimated the average household grocery bill per week by about a third. He admitted he was wrong – but later tried to wriggle out of the situation by claiming he was only referring to “basic groceries” not his “overall shopping bill”.
4/6 Rachel Reeves on Daily Politics
The shadow Work and Pensions Secretary got very mixed up on whether Labour were promising “a freeze or a cap” – when energy prices actually stopped rising and fell. Refusing to accept that her party had enacted a u-turn on policy, she said: “It wasn’t us who changed – it’s the world that changed.” She later couldn’t give any examples of retail prices being successfully fixed by governments – stumping for “the minimum wage – the price of labour”.
5/6 David Cameron on Gay Times
Grilled on his MEPs’ voting records on gay rights in the European Parliament, a pre-prime ministerial Mr Cameron suggested they could vote any way they liked. But he also said the right not to suffer discrimination based on sexuality was a fundamental human right – meaning it should not be subject to an open vote. The former PR man got so flustered he had to ask for the cameras to be turned off because he was getting “distracted”.
6/6 Nigel Farage on LBC
Nigel Farage’s image as a plain-speaking, not-like-that-lot-in-Westminster politician suffered one of a number of dents in May 2014, when a tense 22-minute confrontation with LBC’s James O’Brien had to be cut short by his spin doctor. Patrick O’Flynn – who is now an MEP for Ukip – had to step in when Mr Farage was repeatedly questioned on his views on race and why he would be uncomfortable if a group of Romanian nationals moved in next door to him.
Cameron’s main line of counter-attack was to mix his metaphors, accusing Miliband of wanting to crawl into Downing Street on Alex Salmond’s coattails and in Salmond’s pocket. The Speaker had to hold up proceedings for several minutes while the Prime Minister provided a drawing, sketched in haste by his parliamentary private secretary, showing the former SNP leader’s unlikely attire, with the Leader of the Opposition’s position marked.
As PMQs resumed, with a question from Labour backbencher Gisela Stuart, news filtered through to my mobile that Peter Mandelson had helpfully said it would be wrong for the broadcasters to “empty chair” the Prime Minister. And no, he wasn’t objecting to the use of “empty chair” as a verb, but to the broadcasters’ use of threats to try to intimidate an elected politician. As ever, Lord Mandelson is right. I think the TV debates are a good thing because so many millions of people watched them, but they have to be done by agreement. I think it is wrong in principle for broadcasters, bound by legal obligations of impartiality, to threaten any of the parties. That is, after all, Miliband’s job.
But it is not his whole job, and it was embarrassing for Labour that it was up to Blairites such as Creasy and Stuart to maintain its reputation as the party of national security. Stuart followed up Creasy’s question about defence spending, asking whether the UK owed it to its allies to commit to the Nato target to spend 2 per cent of national income on defence. Caroline Flint, another Blairite, nodded vigorously on the front bench a few places down from her leader, who chatted alternately with Ed Balls and Harriet Harman instead.
Defence spending is a subject that the leader of a serious opposition party that aspires to govern in two months’ time could have asked about at PMQs, but the impression given is that Miliband doesn’t really care about it.Reuse content