PMQs sketch: Miliband and Cameron even after score-all draw

Prised open: Cameron set a trap for Miliband, but to limited effect.
Prised open: Cameron se a trap for Miliband, but to limited effect.t

Cameron sets a trap for Miliband, but the Labour leader refuses to crawl in it.

By Ian Dunt

Everyone is trying to seduce everyone else.

Labour wants to tempt the Lib Dems into backing their demand for the risk register to be published by playing on the party's commitment to freedom of information during an afternoon debate later today. Cameron wants to tempt Miliband into talking about it before then.


There was a twinkle in the prime minister's eye as he entered the chamber. That twinkle, it turned out, was a Labour briefing document reminding MPs that Andy Burnham – once health secretary, now shadow heath secretary – had kept a risk report on the NHS secret himself not so long ago.

The prime minister was desperate to let it out, like a little girl with a horrid secret, but Miliband was unmoved. "What a failure of leadership" it was to avoid the subject, he told the Labour leader. He's such a flirt. "As we're being kept here to vote at seven on the publication of the risk registers, why don't you ask a question about that?" he added.

Then: "Are you going to ask a question about it or are you frightened of your own motion?" The prime minister was like some horrible image of a topless mermaid, inviting the sailor off his principled ship. A master strategist he may not be, but Miliband has enough sense to avoid the question his opponent is urging him to ask.

His reticence drove the Conservative leader into spasms of angry movement. He was seemingly livid from the first question – a sarcastic opener on the various medical bodies not invited to Monday's NHS reform meeting. Instantly, the PM was beset by movement. His index finger waved in the air in violent semi-circles, then pointed violently downwards, as if squishing an insect. He made stabbing motions with his hands and then thrust them outward. Tellingly, he kept glancing behind him at the Tory benches, as if desiring more support. He had good reason to. At the start of the session, his backbenchers failed to lead with a sarcastic cheer for Miliband – the early dig they usually use to unsettle the Labour leader.

Miliband – at this stage still in the ascendancy - stood chillingly still. Only his left hand moved, bumping slowly up and down on the table, seemingly oblivious to the rest of his body, like a human metronome.

Andrew Lansley started to get very excited, constantly leaning over George Osborne to whisper advice in the prime minister's ear. Given his record on advice, one might question how valuable it was. Cameron responded with a bare minimum of politeness, a staccato nod of the head and then pointed indifference. "Let me say to the health secretary I don't think the prime minister wants advice from him," Miliband pointed out, a cruel little smile playing on his lips.

Bercow started intervening so regularly neither Cameron nor Miliband could work out who he was telling to sit down. Eventually they both stood confused by their despatch box, staring at each other - a tiny moment of solidarity as the Commons fell about around them. Bercow struggled for several seconds to acquire some silence, barking order in ever-higher frequencies until MPs settled down. Once they did, he reminded parliament of "what the public think". MPs across the House sighed exasperatedly as one.

After Miliband resolutely failed to fall into Cameron's trap, the PM gave in and opened it up himself, managing to acquire a loud cheer from the Tory benches with his mockery of Burnham's apparent hypocrisy. Tory spirits improved significantly and Miliband was reduced to defending Labour's period in office in the same dull manner that leaders always use when stumped for a response. He got his final line out, however - comparing Cameron's support for NHS reform with Thatcher's defence of the poll tax. That comparison has been made by the press all week of course, which is why it was so useful for the opposition leader as a short-cut into the evening news.

Score draw on points. Supreme flappability.

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