Earlier this week the OBR gave an upbeat assessment of the economy so Ed sent his bad-news beavers to sift through it for signs of toxicity. They couldn’t find much. Jobless totals are to rise. But only a bit. The economy will grow reluctantly. But not that reluctantly. We’re faring worse than some of our rivals, and better than others. Armed with these feeble materials Ed Miliband attempted to demolish an in-form prime minister whose self-confidence at these sessions borders on invincibility. Ed never had a prayer. He tried to harry the PM about rising unemployment. Cameron replied that number of vacancies would also rise. Ed tried to attach the label ‘sluggish!’ to the growth predictions. Cameron accused him talking the economy down. So Ed unleashed the most dangerous weapon his backroom wonks had devised. ‘This is the weakest recovery from a recession for forty years.’ Not a slogan to bring millions out onto the barricades, and Cameron refuted it by pointing out that Britiain’s was ‘the fastest recovery in the EU.’
With the figures failing him Ed reverted to his party’s favourite tactic. Lyrical indignation. ‘Have you ever heard a more complacent answer?’ he asked. Labour cheered lustily when he accused Cameron of painting ‘a rosy scenario’ at a time when families are worried about their jobs and their wallets. Cameron was now fed up with answering Miliband point for point so he just lamped him with a prepared putdown. ‘He’s been doing the job for three months. People are beginning to ask, when’s he going to start?’
He pilloried Miliband’s election claim – now demonstrably disproven – that a £6bn cut in public spending would wreck the economy. Labour’s policies, he said, would have led us to a Dublinesque meltdown. ‘We’d be talking about a bailout for Britain.’
‘OK Mr Speaker,’ said Ed, with a false show of courage, ‘You can only re-write history for just so long …’ but this empty accusation backfired. The Tories howled at him like a group of schoolkids who’ve just found the headteacher’s porn stash. He tried to recover by referring to William Hague’s WikiLeaks description of the Tory front bench. ‘No wonder this gang call themselves the children of Thatcher,’ Ed said, as his own side cheered him on.
The whole house was now in ferment and Cameron rose to respond. ‘I’d rather be a child of Thatcher,’ he said, ‘than a son of Brown.’ The roar of celebration went up like a firecracker. It was wild, it was deranged. The air seemed to have burst into flames and for a fleeting second the Tories imagined they’d won power outright. They even forgot the victory call of ‘More, More!’ when Ed Miliband sat down in defeat at the end of his six questions.
Labour’s backbench efforts were led by Lindsay Roy, (Glenrothes) whose chilly tones outlined his concerns about the cash being spent on a happiness survey. ‘Doesn’t it show that the prime minister has lost touch with reality?’ But it was Mr Roy who was out of touch. Cameron’s comment, ‘Generally speaking the hon. member should cheer up a bit,’ got a big laugh and caught the mood of the House exactly. Louise Ellman ladled out more Labour gloom by calling cuts to Liverpool universities ‘a policy for closing down opportunity.’
No, Cameron replied, ‘we’re making sure we have a strong university sector.’ Since Labour set up the Browne review it was eccentric of them to complain about its implementation. This winter is getting pretty tough for the opposition. Labour has always been more than of a bunch of Christmas-cancelling killjoys but today they scrubbed up like a confederacy of depressives, nit-pickers and professional defeatists. As for their leader, Mr Cameron said it all. ‘Not waving but drowning.’