Lloyd Evans

PMQs sketch: Cameron kick-starts a Miliband recovery

PMQs sketch: Cameron kick-starts a Miliband recovery
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Cunning work from Milband at PMQs. He played Syria like a fixed-odds betting machine and came away with a minor jackpot. Last week he had urged the prime minister to accept a few hundred of the neediest Syrian refugees. Cameron duly said OK. Today Miliband was quick to claim a victory for decency, for humanity, and for Miliband. ‘I welcome this significant change of heart,’ he said. Choice word, heart. He’s got it. And Cameron hasn’t. That’s the implication. Miliband tried the same tactic with the 50p tax rate.

When Ed Balls unfurled this this new policy he got a mixed bag of reviews. Economists put their fingers in their ears and ran around wimpering. The popular response suggested it was a top ten hit. Cameron’s task today was to point out that raising the upper tax-rate kills growth, throttles investment and puts talent into a limousine bound for Heathrow. Not hard. But he fluffed it. Perhaps Miliband’s recent spate of dire performances had persuaded him to shirk his pre-match training. If so it showed. Miliband’s question was simple.

‘Does he rule out lowering the top rate to 40p? Yes or No’

And Cameron couldn’t answer. Not directly. He said he wanted the rich to pay more tax. He said he favoured lower rates for middle-earners and the poor. And the Institute of Fiscal Studies, he went on, had trashed the 50p policy. Then he changed the subject and called Labour ‘the anti-jobs, anti-business party’. This equivocation was a free gift for Miliband who loves to capitalise on any hint that Cameron is a billionaire’s puppet. He can now portray the Tories as a gang of snooty oligarch-huggers who are hell-bent on stealing yet more dosh from starving orphans so they can lavish it on their over-paid parasite chums.

Stroll in the park for Miliband.

To reinforce the point, Labour unleashed its Grim Oop North division (most of whom are doing rather nicely in their jobs-for-life down south) who set about embarrassing Cameron over his privileged past. Andy Sawford, from Corby, offered Cameron a job with ‘a rogue agency’ that pays less than the minimum wage. Scouser Steve Rotheram reeled off a blood-curdling list of social atrocities in Liverpool. People are scrapping for tins of beans at food banks while loan-sharks roam the back streets profiteering from child poverty.

‘When will he govern for the many not the few?’

In reply Cameron said this. ‘Let me correct the first thing that came out of his mouth – about child poverty.’ Not the happiest of phrases. Not the happiest of topics for Cameron. Labour will be back for more on this.

Lisa Nandy, from Wigan, was the star member of the Destitution Squad today. She name-checked Mrs Thatcher, and then she demanded that Cameron make a public act of contrition for the miners’ strike. She urged haste, as well, because some Wigan residents ‘have died waiting for justice.’ Shamefully, and rather brilliantly, her question knitted together two convenient falsehoods. First, that ‘justice’ obliges Cameron to apologise for the miners’ strike. Second, that the strike has some mysterious lingering ability to assassinate northerners 29 years after it ended.

Cameron got quite riled at this. He accused Arthur Scargill of failing to ballot the NUM membership, and he charged Neil Kinnock with letting Scargill off the hook. Typical Labour, he finished, they bungle everything and they never admit their mistakes.

A pretty lousy day for Cameron. Under no pressure whatsoever he kick-started a Miliband recovery.