How did he get away with that? We’re assured that somewhere inside Labour HQ there toils a crack team of sleuths, analysts, Cameron-watchers, policy-fetishists and high-IQ saboteurs who spend all week devising Miliband’s Wednesday assault on the prime minister. And yet these world-class strategists seem to get beaten every time by the most predictable of dodges. Cameron doesn’t even prepare his defence. He just makes it up on the spot.
Today Miliband went for the big one: hit Cameron with corruption charges. Or as near as damn it. The government has spared hedge funds from the duty payable on share dealings which is levied on all other financial players. The sums saved amount to well over 100 million quid. Not that the hedgies need the extra money unless they’re giving more cheques (£47m and counting) to the Tories who arranged their cosy little tax-breaks. A good name for it would be money-laundering.
Miliband asked why Cameron ‘protected hedge funds’ when other banks had to fork out stamp duty on their share dealings.
‘But I have acted on stamp duty,’ cried Cameron. He accused the last Labour government of exempting foreigners from paying any duty on their London homes – an outrage which he had only recently corrected.
Spot the trick?
Miliband spoke of financial transactions. Cameron fought back on property transactions. In a split second he’d twigged that ‘stamp duty’ covers both species of tax. The man is, as they say, slipperier than a jellyfish emerging from an oil-slick.
But the blame for this passage of falsehood should be shared equally between the leaders. Cameron for stooping to it. Miliband for falling for it. Afterwards, in the Labour dressing-room, they must have wondered why their captain didn’t protest at this blatant dive in the area. You might say there’s no action replay at PMQs. But he has six questions. Ample time to call a halt and cry foul.
Labour’s backbenchers regularly outclass Miliband at baiting Cameron. Steve Rotheram, a floppy-haired Scouser who looks like an angry Beatle, listed with perfect accuracy the promises Cameron has broken in office.
NHS reorganisation: he said he wouldn’t, but did.
Deficit elimination: he said he would, but didn’t.
Immigration reduction: he said he would, but admitted he couldn’t.
Rotheram ordered Cameron to collect his P45. The PM refused to do that either. The country faces a stark choice, he said, between Tory ‘competence’ and Labour ‘chaos’.
Competence or chaos. He delivered these alliterative antonyms no fewer than three times today as if anxious to meet a target set by some shadowy figure in Whitehall, (Lynton Crosby).
A difficult silence greeted Angus Robertson, SNP leader at Westminster, as he got up to impose himself on proceedings. Robertson stands a fair chance of assuming cabinet rank next May. And his great strength is his utter disdain for popularity. The stars that twinkled at his birth allotted him a superhuman store of charmlessness. Today he told his colleagues they make him puke.
‘Voters in Scotland are sick of the main parties in Westminster’ was how he delivered his regurgitative assessment of his fellow parliamentarians. The next bit was even more revealing. He said the SNP will ‘always put Scotland first’. This means that an SNP-Labour coalition will rank Wales second, Northern Ireland third and England fifth, just ahead of the Channel Islands.
Come to think of it there’s no reason why an SNP-Lab regime shouldn’t create a ‘Minister for England’. How Angus Robertson would love that.