PMQs verdict: Even today, Cameron holds his own against Miliband

Ed Miliband struggled to hit an open goal during PMQs
Ed Miliband struggled to hit an open goal during PMQs
Ian Dunt By

Ed Miliband should have been physically wiping the floor with David Cameron today. He should have skipped the talking altogether, strode up to the prime minister, tipped him upside down and rubbed that ever-evasive bald spot all over the floor of the Commons. Instead he was still, somehow, losing.

Culture secretary Maria Miller resigned this morning over her expenses – about a week after everyone recognised it was inevitable. Everyone except Cameron. Or for that matter Miliband.

Because there was one fatal flaw to the leader of the opposition's argument: he had never actually called for the culture secretary to resign. Labour has sent out a handful of press releases over the last week asking questions about the prime minister's 'judgement' but at no point had Miliband taken that extra step.

That left Miliband's line of attack looking rather odd. His constant questioning of why the PM hadn't shown leadership and sacked Miller earlier sat uncomfortably with the fact he had never suggested it.


Cameron pointed this out, handing Miliband a good line that it wasn't his job to sack the prime minister's Cabinet secretaries. That got a laugh and won some very sombre expressions on the government benches. But it wasn't enough to hide the fact that this row has completely sidelined Miliband. He's been irrelevant from the start of it and never more so than today.

Of course, voters tend to see expenses as a 'pox on all their houses' issue. But he could have at least tried to dominate it. Instead, predictably, the only real winner is Nigel Farage and his easy, knee-jerk populism. That grates, given the man is not reticent about claiming expenses. Miliband, on the other hand, was clean as a fiddle when the original expenses scandal broke.

Cameron at one point put aside his notes and seemed to answer off the bat. He stood upright, calmly making his case. Miliband had adopted his usual over-eager posture, leaning against the despatch box, coiled like a useless spring, karate chopping his way through another defeat.

Cameron's argument was nonsense of course. Keeping someone on for an extra week and doing maximum possible damage to your party, your government and parliament is not a sign of strength. And it was laughable to see the PR man lambast Miliband for 'playing politics'. Hypocrisy cannot be extracted from Westminster altogether, but even Cameron's own MPs couldn't keep a straight face during that one.

Nevertheless he delivered his nonsense with a commendable air of calm, reasonableness and vaguely sincere regret. It wasn't enough to get him out of his extraordinarily deep hole, but it was as good as one could imagine him doing in the circumstances.

Afterwards a couple of Labour MPs dutifully stood up and asked if anyone from Cameron's team applied pressure on Miller to resign. Cameron evaded frantically, which suggests they probably did. Afterwards his spokesman insisted she had come to her own decision, but refused to confirm if someone from No 10 had spoken to her about what her own decision should be.

The entire Labour operation was dreary and anaemic, like an old thespian going through the motions for a paycheck. There was no imagination or fluidity to the attack.

No Labour MP was on the ball enough to mention the changes to the women and equality brief, which has been split for the first time between Sajid Javid on equalities and Nicky Morgan on women.

Why, you might ask? Good question. The suspicion, and it is a very good suspicion, is that Morgan couldn't be given equalities because she voted against gay marriage.

But this last-minute operation presented Downing Street with all sorts of new problems. Because women is part of equalities, the split means a woman is now subordinate to a man on women's issues. Downing Street also seems uncertain who will be answering the questions during women and equalities question time in the Commons.

Labour was not on the ball enough to ask these questions. It was left to the press pack to do it outside, much as it had forced Downing Street/Maria Miller's hand in the resignation.

Verdict: Cameron 2 Miliband 1

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