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Simon Carr

Simon Carr: With all eyes on him, Ed Miliband was firm - don't mention the strikes


What with the European monetary system in the melting pot, and the Greek streets in flames, and the biggest British labour protest since the Chartists, all eyes were on the Leader of the Opposition to see whether he could obamalate the hopes and fears of his generation.

Would he start with: "There's a little girl with blue eyes and cancer crying in Cumbria. Why is she crying? Why doesn't the Prime Minister care he doesn't know? Does he believe that little girl is somehow less important than his own children?"

Or something introduced by: "Can the Prime Minister explain why in the Draft Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill..."

Or perhaps: "I'm thinking of a number. Can the Prime Minister tell the country what that number is? No; 521! Pathetic!"

It was a bit of all three, but certainly nothing about European money and Greek streets and so forth. And even more certainly nothing about today's strikes. That Labour disapproves of 750,000 public-sector workers striking against a Tory government is inconceivable. But he has to pretend to disapprove – and that's why he lacks an integrated presence.

There was a riot and a half in the Commons. Miliband asked a couple of technical questions and then supplied the answers to them, one with a made-up number (see above).

The noise was such that no one noticed that Cameron had answered one of the questions. Asked how much he would spend on making NHS staff redundant, he said: "Changes will have a one-off cost of £1.4bn." Miliband couldn't say, "Oh, that much, really? I thought it was about half that." He just ploughed on, asserting that the question hadn't been answered.

Cameron then launched his own prescripted peroration. And pretty blistering it was. Ed Miliband couldn't talk about strikes because he was in the unions' pocket; nor about Greece because "his plan is to make Britain like Greece".

But at his point of take-off ("He has to talk about the micro because he cannot talk about the macro"), the Speaker interrupted him, made him sit down, refused him leave to get up again, and called out that comedy name: "Guto Bebb!"

Cameron shot the Speaker a look like a flame-thrower.

And Bercow had been doing so well with Tories over the past couple of months!