Lloyd Evans Lloyd Evans

PMQs sketch: Ed Miliband vs David Cameron on the ‘bedroom tax’

It was cynical. It was shameless. It was low-down politics in every way. But Miliband’s stunt at PMQs very nearly worked.

His theme was the reform of housing benefit that will affect those in homes with unoccupied bedrooms. Ed Miliband calls this ‘a bedroom tax’. He kicked off by asking David Cameron about the case of ‘Alison’ who has twin sons serving in the army. While her boys are fighting abroad, Alison will be charged £25 extra per week for their bedrooms.

It’s wrong to call this a tax, said Cameron, it’s a necessary change to an unaffordable system. Miliband was waiting for him.

‘I’d like to see him explaining to Alison why her paying £25 more a week is not a tax.’

Cameron pointed out that if her sons are away, her income has fallen, so her overall entitlement must have risen. True, perhaps, but it didn’t dispel Miliband’s cunning image of hard-up patriotism abandoned by uncaring government.

Miliband collects the needy like a squirrel hording acorns and he had many more victims stashed away. He cited a claimant named ‘Diane’ whose weekly rent would rise to £100 if she were forced into private accommodation. And Diane’s current rent is just £65.68. As with ‘Alison’ the name is crucial. It carries huge emotive force. ‘Diane’ is no faceless statistic but a flesh-and-blood human being. Poor Diane. We can see her. We can feel her, almost. She seems to come bodying forth into the chamber. We sense her humiliation as she falls to her knees and begs the system to acquire what she has – a heart. And the petty sums involved – those little 68 pennies – invest her suffering with extra incrustations of hardship and woe.

In the game of manipulative sentimentality, Miliband played his cards to perfection.

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