James Forsyth

Miliband starts with a bang

Miliband starts with a bang
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Score the first round to Ed Miliband. In his debut PMQs performance, Miliband comfortably got the better of David Cameron, forcing him onto the defensive for most of the session.

Miliband’s first question was a long and worthy one about the death of Linda Norgrove, the UK aid worker, in Afghanistan last week. Then, he moved to the proposed child benefit changes, asking Cameron to justify the anomaly where a single earner family on £45,000 a year would lose it while a two earner household on £80,000 would keep it. Cameron’s problem was that nine days after the policy was announced, he still has no answer to his point. (Although, I suspect that the number of households that fall into this category is fairly small).

Cameron’s inability to answer this gave Miliband a series of easy lines and the momentum in the contest. Cameron kept trying to personalise it, talking about poor constituents subsiding ‘his child benefit’ when referring to Miliband. The Tories are convinced — with justification — that the argument that the rest of the country shouldn’t contribute to the cost of benefits for the richest 15 percent resonates and puts them on the right side of the fairness divide. But in the chamber, it didn’t cut through. At the end, the Labour benches looked delighted and the Tory ones rather glum. Although, someone suggested to me afterwards that Cameron's answers will look better and Miliband's delivery worse in the clips on the Six and the Ten.

Two other things from today will encourage Miliband and his team. First, the Labour benches were extremely vocal in their support; you wouldn’t have known he wasn’t their first choice despite a Tory backbencher using the first question to try and remind the House of that point. One backbencher even managed to make ghost noises all the way through Cameron’s response to a question about Claire Rayner’s last words. Second, Miliband had the best joke of the day when he said that the Tory conference was so disastrous ‘I bet the PM wishes the BBC blackout [planned for Tory conference] had gone ahead.’

The result of the next election is not going to be decided at PMQs. But PMQs does matter for morale at Westminster and the general political mood. Judging by today, Cameron needs to up his game — and fast. Ed Miliband has once again demonstrated that he is an opponent you underestimate at your peril.