It was the final PMQs before the sun-stroke season begins. Usually these are high-spirited Derby Day affairs and Ed Miliband came to the house knowing things could hardly be easier. A political grenade has just been lobbed into the prime minister’s bunker – by the prime minister himself.
He’s sacked two of his closest allies (and Ken Clarke). He’s fatally weakened himself in Europe by sending Lord Nobody to Brussels. And he’s surrendered to hypocritical calculation by stuffing his cabinet with skirt. Cameron the radical feminist? The silliest pose he’s ever adopted.
Miliband began by striking a note that he does particularly well: low-key, gloating irony. He congratulated the prime minister, along with ‘thousands of parents’, for junking Michael Gove. He quoted Cameron’s recent praise of Gove and asked, why sack him if he was such a success?
Cameron patted this aside and demanded to know why Miliband hadn’t mentioned today’s record employment figures. The folly of Miliband’s tactics was instantly revealed. Gove is a side-issue compared with Cameron’s sudden self-reinvention as a Suffragette. Equality between the sexes is one of the founding issues of the Labour movement. And Miliband had a golden opportunity today to extol his party’s record as the historic champions of liberty, and to present himself as the embodiment of an ideal that the sluggardly Tories are barely catching up with.
He fluffed it.
Instead he grudgingly welcomed the fall in unemployment totals. And his features were shadowed with guilt and anxiety. Which is almost incredible. Four years into the job and Ed still doesn’t know how to suit his mood to the headlines in order to make himself look like a winner. Bad news should prompt sorrowful defiance. ‘Under me, this tragedy would never have happened.’