#BattleforNumber10: How Miliband beat Cameron

Kay Burley and Jeremy Paxman: Neither of these people are going to be prime minister
Kay Burley and Jeremy Paxman: Neither of these people are going to be prime minister
Alex Stevenson By

According to our sophisticated scoring system, which involves adding two numbers together, the clear winner is... Ed Miliband, actually.

Where David Cameron was slowly strangled by Jeremy Paxman's questioning, Miliband turned the audience against the interviewer. Where the Conservative leader bored the studio audience into submission, the Labour leader at least made things interesting. By the end of the programme, he was actually getting impassioned. Like he actually cared. And that, when up against the hyper-tense Cameron, was more than enough to secure the win.

David Cameron's Paxman interview: 4/10

Merely surviving the onslaught of incredulity from Jeremy Paxman was an achievement for the prime minister, who demonstrated that he can get through a high-pressure interview without getting flustered. Yet this was, in truth, a poor performance. "I want more people to have part-time - not to have part-time, to have full-time work" is not exactly a quote that will echo down the ages.


He did that classic prime ministerial thing of being boring, too, by having so many reasons and lists and topics to talk about that he risked numbing the audience into hostility. "I'll take each of those in turn," he declared. "Let me give you some more examples," he offered. No thanks. There are more examples of him doing that sort of thing, but that's never a good idea.

Paxman's questions were targeted at the PM's failures over the last five years and Cameron failed to escape the straitjacket of defensiveness the questions forced on him. But it felt like he was too ready to remain on the back foot. And when really pressed, he was forced all the way back to stating that he had failed in decisive terms. On immigration he declared confidently that it "has not been cut to the tens of thousands." Anyone half-listening would have concluded this was an achievement.

David Cameron's Q&A: 6/10

This is the kind of 6/10 that you give to a tedious, middle-of-the-road indie rock album that is obviously mediocre, but you shelled out ten quid for and need to listen to a couple of times to make it worthwhile. It's a 6/10 based on the fact that if the audience falls asleep, or at the very least gets so bored they stop listening, that will help Cameron avoid losing out. "We've done some good work, we've got more to do, but in the end it all comes back to whether we have a strong economy," the PM said for about 15 minutes. Ughghghgh.

The only really notable development was the set-up: Cameron was initially perched on a stool like a one-man boy band, but at the start of the first question leapt up - presumably because he had been told it's more dynamic to be shifting from one foot to the other. That, at least, was better than his 'I'm listening' pose - his feet spread apart like a goalkeeper facing a penalty. As opposed to an elderly person asking about pensions.

Ed Miliband's Q&A: 7/10

"You sound gloomy most of the time," the first questioner told Miliband. What a superb opportunity for the Labour leader to show some humour and humanity. He utterly failed, instead instantly switching on the serious button. "No, but they could be a lot better," he declared. After that, though, things got better. The audience even applauded.

Better? Or just more interesting? Miliband was rather more unstable than Cameron and that made this a little more entertaining. When Burley told him he'd given "a politician's answer" he just mumbled "not sure, not sure".

He was asked an interesting question, too, about his brother David Miliband. It was "bruising" and their relationship is now "strained", he said. But Miliband somehow seemed more human in talking about the "hardy soul" of his mother than Cameron had been talking about taking his children to PMQs.

He lost points for being more gawky, repeating phrases like "I make no bones about it" and "let me explain why". If this was Just A Minute he'd have been buzzed into oblivion.

Ed Miliband's Paxman interview: 8/10

You could see it on the faces of the audience: they half-pitied, half-loathed Miliband for refusing to put a figure on Paxman's "natural limit" to migration to Britain. "I'm not going to pluck a figure out of the air," Miliband said repeatedly, like a man coming up for air for the third time.

But perhaps the most painful moment was when the camera cut back to Miliband as Paxman told him he was trying to sum up the Labour leader's position. The smile faded on Miliband's face like the setting sun - it was a GIF waiting to happen. It was gormlessness personified. And that was before he used the word "consequential".

Still, there was a lot more to Miliband than just the stereotype, as this programme began revealing to viewers. They saw a man who was impassioned, not defensive, when faced with Paxman's probing. The sense that Miliband genuinely thought he was right felt a lot more convincing than the sense of Cameron in stolid defence mode. And when he turned around and slapped down Paxman for being over-important, and got the audience applauding with him, it felt like quite a transformation.

The final five minutes or so made for compelling viewing. Miliband was playing loosely with a freedom that reminded me of England's match against France at the weekend. He was making mistakes, yes, but driving on and on with a vigour that looked like carrying the audience with him. "Am I tough enough? Hell yes, I'm tough enough," he said at one point. And no-one laughed, because they were along for the ride with him.

Miliband declared he had always been under-estimated but always prevailed. And he even dared suggest he could win an overall majority. Like England at the weekend, actual victory might be beyond reach - but he had at least got pulses racing.

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