The Prime Minister declared war at PMQs today. Not once but twice in the same sentence. ‘We’re at war in Libya and in Afghanistan,’ he said, in a throwaway footnote to some ritual noises about his ‘huge respect for our armed forces.’ Until this historic moment Britain had been engaged in peace-keeping and nation-building in Afghanistan, and in civilian protection and tyrant-bothering in Libya. But now it’s official. We’re mobilised on two fronts. Ed Miliband might have made more of this but he was too busy mentally preparing himself for this week’s shock ambush. This week’s shock ambush wasn’t quite as shocking as it might have been because it had exactly the same three-pronged shape as last week’s shock ambush.
Prong One: a minuscule point of detail that Cameron is bound to be unprepared for.
Prong Two: a highly emotive topic that will silence Tory catcalls.
Prong Three: an unimpeachable authority who backs Ed’s argument.
Last week’s attack used the terrible word ‘cancer’. This week’s used the even more terrible word ‘rape’. Miliband asked why the police are compelled to relinquish the DNA of rape suspects who’ve been questioned but not charged. The trap worked a treat. Cameron, clearly clueless about Home Office policy on double-helix disposal, leaned across to Teresa May for a quick chat about genome retention. This prompted Labour’s in-house Jack-in-the-box, Ed Balls, to blow up and start yelling that the PM knew nothing about his own legislative programme. Cameron turned this straight back at Labour. ‘They’re worried?’ he said satirically, ‘that in this government we actually talk to each other?’ This took the momentum out of Ed’s carefully planned assault.