Sketch: There's life in Cameron yet

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David Cameron: There's life in the old dog yet.
David Cameron: There's life in the old dog yet.

The prime minister cuts a lonely figure. He's hated by the Labour MPs in front of him, treated with suspicion by the Liberal Democrats beside him and disrespected by the Tories behind him.

The Commons was in a weird mood too, like someone waking up after a party and feeling that growing sense of panic about what they did the night before. The chamber was filled with memories of alcohol-fuelled threats, career-exploding rebellions and finger pointing.

Ed Miliband bided his time before asking his first question, letting Cameron sweat it out for a while. He sat bolt upright with his hands on his legs, like an action figure still in the box. When he deigned to speak, he delivered his best line. The Labour leader reminded Cameron of an interview he'd given before the general election, in which he was asked why he wanted to be prime minister. "He paused," Miliband recalled, "and with characteristic humility he said: 'Because I think I'd be good at it'."

Labour fell about. Then Miliband added: "Where did it all go wrong?"


Cameron has taken to answering these sorts of questions by reeling off lists of supposed government achievements. It's an old Brownite trick – a substitute for thinking. It did not work for him and it won't work for the Tory leader either. He pulled this stunt several times today, and on each occasion looked a little deader afterwards.

Miliband, on the other hand, was delivering some great lines. The PM had "lost control of his party and his temper", he said. "The government's a shambles and he blames the leader of the opposition," he scoffed. "He didn't just lose the confidence of his party last night - he's losing the confidence of the country." When Cameron barked "weak" across the despatch box, Miliband countered: "What could be weaker than 91 MPs [rebelling]?"

Miliband made the mistake of deviating from last night's masochism to the 50p top rate and the double-dip recession. The Labour benches looked miffed. They wanted blood and all they got was spittle. They fought to repeat his lines but they were delivered with a deadened, unexcited voice - badly paced and too unpredictable.

Labour people love cruelty, though, so they revived once he pointed out to the Commons that "the redder [Cameron] gets the less he convinces people".Cameron looked very red indeed and he got even redder after that one. Just when it seemed he would dive into another interminable list, the PM grabbed the 'red' line and throttled the hell out of. Suddenly the only list to be found was "Red Ed, supporting Red Ken and Red Len McClusky".

A Labour MP made the mistake of demanding George Osborne apologise to Ed Balls for linking him to Libor. All Osborne had said was that Balls had questions to answer, Cameron replied. And for the record, they might as well remind themselves of them.

Then he managed to rally the mutinous troops with a list of Balls failings, in a way which seemed impossible at the start of the session. Of course, it was all re-heated material from four years ago – a failed regulatory system and the like - and his MPs couldn't decide whether they wanted to repeat the word 'him' after every sentence or 'Balls', which frankly would have been disturbing. But it was a terrific little turn-around from a hostile question. For a moment Cameron was thinking on his feet rather than just parroting policies. And there was an unmistakeable message behind it to his backbenchers: 'Keep acting like this and he'll be chancellor next'.

There's life in the old dog yet.

By the way, Tory MP Anne Marie Morris asked the first question after the leaders' exchange and stole the show. She went stark raving crazy, like Margaret Thatcher on amphetamines. It's worth a watch.

 


 

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