Simon Carr: Miliband wanted to make Cameron look small. He failed

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The Independent Online

The Libya statement. The biggest moment for a year in the Commons. A good moment to pass the Gallery's geiger counter over the Prime Minister, the one that registers paranoia, improper pleasure and political exultation.

Did it squeal? Did Cameron look at all swollen with the power of ordering a billion-dollar assault on a desert tyrant?

Was there any sense that he might have glimpsed a possibility that he was related to a Messiah of some sort?

Was he quietly satisfied at having got Labour on the wrong side of the question and could foresee a moment when he could crush them in the argument?

Did the congratulations of his friends and foes feed some inner echoing emptiness?

The answer to all the above still seems to be in the negative. The likelihood is that Cameron's still OK, still sane.

Early days. It's the next war that will really test him. But so far the mettle is in good shape. Blair was still OK during Kosovo, wasn't he?

The reply from Ed Miliband was revealing of the poor fellow's paternity. He truly is the son of Brown. He laboured to give Cameron zero credit. He reserved his congratulations for "the international community". He praised the United Nations for showing resolve, he repeated Cameron's points in his own words – how grave the situation was, how clear and compelling the legal basis must be, the scale of the humanitarian disaster.

What he was doing was taking ownership of the language of this crisis for later advantage, in order to say, "I've always been very clear" as he takes credit for the action (should it turn out well).

He couldn't bring himself to say anything like the words that came so easily to Chris Bryant: "I'm sure the whole House wishes the Prime Minister well over the next period when there are so many more difficult decisions to be made." Miliband must have reasoned that to make Cameron look big would have made himself look small. Precisely the opposite is the case. Without wanting to be cruel, David Miliband would have discerned this. Joan Ruddock made an excellent point about Obama's caution allowing the Arab League time to "come together". Heidi Alexander asked what would happen if Gaddafi was weakened but not defeated. And Natascha Engel struck a note of authentic Tory pessimism by wondering if it wouldn't render "a complex and dangerous situation worse".

Labour women did better than the Labour leader. This will almost certainly continue.

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