Lloyd Evans

Miliband rises from his deathbed

Miliband rises from his deathbed
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At last Wednesday’s PMQs Cameron kicked Ed Miliband into touch with a debonair swagger. Today anger replaced disdain. The PM’s eye-popping rage is so palpable that some commentators take it for vulnerability or even a hint of self-doubt. Milband has Cameron rattled? Nothing of the sort. Cameron just can’t control himself.  

Asked about the Coalition’s higher education policy, he heaped rancid abuse on the opposition leader from a lofty perch. He called him "an opportunist,"  who "posed about social mobility" and was guilty of "rank hypocrisy." "He saw a big crowd in the Mall," fumed Cameron, referring to the student protests, "and said, 'I am their leader I must follow them'." It was vicious stuff, and when Miliband tried to attack Nick Clegg through the Prime Minister’s armour  Cameron rose furiously to his troubled pal’s defence.

He described the Lib Dems as "the one party that has had the courage of its convictions." This had the nation reaching for its collective remote control. Was something up with the sound? "Convictions," did he say? The Lib Dems? Cameron explained. "They never signed up for the Browne review. But he did" – meaning Miliband – "and he’s the one guilty of hypocrisy." Having delivered this Aristotelian nicety Cameron sat down. And it was no coincidence that his immediate partner was his Brokeback chum himself, Mr Clegg, who had to quell a smirk of pleasure at these cordial, not to say Jesuitical, endorsements from the PM. Clegg hasn’t looked this pleased since bedding Girl Number Thirty.

More rough stuff followed at the despatch box with Cameron branding Miliband "a student politician, and that’s all he’ll ever be." Wow! Student politician, David Cameron. Open goal or what? Miliband duly connected with the ball and sent it flying back. "Yes, I was a student politician," said Ed, "but I wasn’t hanging around with people who were throwing bread rolls and wrecking restaurants." Labour adored it. Cameron ignored it. The house went class-war crazy for an entire minute. The traditional view is that riotous conduct in the chamber is a turn-off for viewers. But I wonder. Gusto and passion do our politicians credit. The fact that they genuinely loathe each other sharpens their appetite for the vital business of destroying policies they oppose and advancing ideas they value.  

For Ed Miliband, today was a turning point. The deathbed predictions of last week proved false. He showed his nerve and his nerve was robust even though he stood up to that most ominous sound, the jeers of opponents longing to watch you kiss the turf. He took it and he survived it. For now at least.

Backbench questions began with a text-book demonstration of the badly timed pause. Anna Sourby, (Con, Broxtowe), rose regally to her feet and announced, "This morning I spoke to one of my constituents…" Brief silence. Shouts of praise. MP looks puzzled. Entire house collapses in derision. The poor woman. All she wanted to do was use Commons time to raise herself in the public’s estimation by urging us to look after pensioners like her ageing constituent. She hardly deserved to be howled at by this pack of hyenas. Well, not quite so loudly anyway. Her colleague Michael Ellis fared better. He told us that supermarket staff who sell Christmas crackers to under-16s are liable to six months imprisonment. He asked the PM to put a fire-cracker under the health and safety laws. Mr Cameron beamed like Santa and said he’d be delighted to. But it sounded less like a promise and more like a Clegg.  

Jack Dromey, prince consort to Harriet Harman, made his first ever intervention at PMQs. We’ve all seen politicians struggling to answer a question. Dromey struggled to ask his. He’d spent all morning with his exercise book working on a topical query that would toy playfully with the similarities between a suspected Russian spy on the Commons pay-roll and Nick Clegg’s Siamese education policies.

"Parliament may have been infiltrated by an imposter," began Mr Dromey, a little discomfited by the impertinent jeers that greeted his elongation to a standing position. "The deputy prime minister," he continued, (and having given away the punchline he lost the house). "Boring," shouted a Tory with lethal accuracy. But Dromey droned on regardless. The Speaker stood up to hasten him to the end of his rhetorical quibbling. "Last sentence please," he urged. "Are there two Nick Cleggs?" said Dromey. Hardly a killer-blow. Cameron let it pass and turned his attention to Mr Dromey’s democratic pedigree. "He has the unique qualification of being one of the brothers selected on an all-woman shortlist. Next time he comes in he should dress properly."

Oh God, no, please. We’ve seen enough of that woman’s wardrobe to last a lifetime.