Miliband’s approval rating among Tory MPs has never been higher. They roared with joy as he got to his feet today. A foolish grin spread across his face, and his lips revealed a mouth full of showroom-white teeth. Then he began to giggle, which was unnerving. Either he had a deadly weapon up his sleeve. Or he was about to resign.
‘I welcome today’s fall in unemployment,’ he said. The Tory cheers could be heard across the river in Labour’s Lambeth heartland.
Miliband has spent the last year on disaster-watch. But the promised calamities have inflicted no damage. The slump? A memory. Inflation? Becalmed. The NHS? Don’t mention it. The bedroom tax? A dead issue. Even food banks, the cornerstone of Labour’s attack strategy, were quietly dropped from the debate.
Cameron taunted Miliband for his failure to raise health policy since last November. Back then the Labour boss had predicted a Christmas crisis caused by hordes of wheezing geriatrics expiring in mixed-sex broom cupboards.
‘He sat there day after day,’ said Cameron, ‘dying for it to happen. It didn’t.’
Miliband had the option to go international. Pick a crisis overseas and make himself look wise, sage and principled. But the fatcat call of Pfizer proved irresistible.
Pfizer’s courtship of AstraZeneca is like an arranged marriage between two sets of Tolstoy toffs. Miliband, the anxious dowager, frets about the serfs in the outlying cottages. Cameron, the gung-ho young heir, is desperate to screw the rich suitor for the biggest trousseau he can get.
Reality never encroached on the debate. This is because both leaders secretly want the opposite of their stated position. Miliband would like the deal to go through, and to go badly.