There was an eerie, eve-of-battle calm about today’s PMQs. The real bust-up isn’t due till Friday. The votes will be in, AV will be out, Clegg will be down and Huhne will be calculating his next move. Before today’s session everyone expected Labour to co-ordinate an ambush and try to light Cameron’s ever-combustible fuse. But the chamber was under-populated and the opposition hadn’t troubled to devise a battle-plan.
Miliband carried the fight to the PM. With an assured forensic performance he methodically built up the case against Cameron as a promise-breaker, a question-dodger and a budget-slasher. Cameron dealt with the assault by absorbing rather than repulsing it. But at the end he came back strongly and after Question Six he unleashed a machine-gun burst of coalition achievements which had his troops cheering merrily. ‘More, more!’ they hollered at Miliband. That’s how you shout ‘Loser!’ in parliament.
Labour’s backbenches failed to retaliate. The well-drilled Tory backbenchers showed them how it’s done. Out they came in their shimmering ranks to make their pitch for tomorrow’s poll. Member after member stood up and heaped praised on a thrifty, bumpf-cutting Tory council and contrasted it with a cop-sacking, bureaucrat-boosting Labour authority next door. Cameron had it easy. He urged all local authorities to follow the prudent Tory example. It was left to Labour’s Dad’s Army to turn out on parade to remind us what we’ve been missing since they shuffled off to the old folks’ home.
Bob Ainsworth mumbled something inaudible about enshrining ‘the military covenant’ in law. Jack Straw asked an interesting but ill-timed question about stem cell research. Michael Meacher, long overdue a new set of dentures, chewed his noisy way through a question about increases in borrowing (although it may have been about no fly-zones, hamster injections or deep-sea fishing – it was hard to tell).