Crafty old Ed. After a week on death row, he was expected to arrive at PMQs and do the decent thing. Drink down a foaming cup of hemlock and depart the political stage for good. But Ed is made of sterner stuff than many of us realised. He was cunning, passionate and articulate today and his performance will have steadied the nerves of his anxious troops. It all began oddly. As soon as Miliband stood up he was greeted by a slightly over-done chorus of cheers from his backbenchers. This absurdity prompted a burst of satirical catcalling from the Tories. They knew this would be fun. Cameron would run rings around Dead Ed.
Miliband’s team of researchers have earned their dough this week. They’ve winkled out an earth-shattering facticule that 7,000 cancer victims stand to lose £94 a week if the reform bill currently passing through the house becomes law. Clearly Cameron hadn’t anticipated this attack and he ducked it by denying that Ed was right. ‘He should check his facts before he comes to the House and chickens out of welfare reform.’ The snippy, waspish tone is always a hint that the PM is about to lose it. Not just his temper. The bout too. Miliband quoted a senior source from Macmillan Cancer Support. ‘It’s crucial that patients are not forced to return to work before they’re ready,’ he said, hinting that heartlessness and Toryism are synonymous.
The two leaders continued to trade blows, each claiming that the other hadn’t grasped the policy details. Then Cameron remembered all of a sudden that he needed to sound a bit compassionate. ‘These are horrible things to have to discuss,’ he mumbled crossly. But his inner bruiser got the better of his inner parson and he fell, inevitably it seemed, for Ed’s deadly bait.