PMQs sketch: Another Miliband own goal

By Alex Stevenson

One-nil to the Cameron: that's how the late Labour MP Alan Keen, who died last week and was the subject of numerous tributes during this week's session, might have put the result of this week's prime minister's questions. The former Middlesbrough scout wouldn't have given that as the result, of course. But after a session in which the prime minister dealt a real body blow to Ed Miliband, it's difficult to offer any other scoreline.

The strike came after Miliband had suggested taxing bankers' bonuses as a way of making the rich take more of the strain. Cameron replied by saying there have already been nine uses for Labour's "bank tax". The opposition wants to spend the cash from the City on tax credits, cutting the deficit, spending on public services, the bits of the regional growth fund Miliband likes, and even turning empty shops into cultural community centres.

The shot was lasering in on goal. What could Miliband do to stop it? "For the prime minister to be playing politics with youth unemployment," he began. This might have been more effective had he not concentrated all his questions on exactly that topic.

His question was drowned out by a great tidal wave of laughter from the government benches. As one, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs bellowed their verdict against Miliband. This was a meaty, powerful laugh, the kind of laugh which you could serve up for dinner with chips and béarnaise sauce. It was as tribal and unifying as any football crowd's roar.

A deflection, and another Miliband own goal! He appeared stunned, like goalkeepers who've just let one between their legs in the cup final.

Why does the Labour leader allow himself to walk into these situations? The problem may have something to do with the pre-prepared nature of his notes. He is in the more advantageous position of the pair, as he gets to choose his line of attack. But the prime minister has to be better prepared, more switched on, as he doesn't know which topic he's going to be grilled on.

Miliband doesn't seem to have the presence of mind to anticipate the way his remarks are going to be interpreted by the wolves opposite.

The most significant laughter which was heard in the chamber afterwards came from the Labour benches, as Miliband quoted the government's spending plans back at them. But it was isolated, sporadic. Hyenas rather than lions. Third division, not the Premier League.

It was a shame the leader of the opposition made the slip-up he did, because otherwise he had offered a fairly strong performance. He came up with a new soundbite on "the PM's ABC – 'anyone but Cameron'". He won Tory groans for repeating a very old one, that the coalition was cutting "too far and too fast".

Miliband even got aggressive at the end of the session. "I tell him this," he boomed, glowering sternly down at Cameron with one finger pointing menacingly. "Oooh!" squealed the camper contingent of Conservatives. Miliband continued: "Unless he changes course next week in the autumn statement, one million people will become the symbol of his failed plan".

All very effective, until Cameron pointed out that long-term youth unemployment had risen by 40% under New Labour. The prime minister sought backup for his policies from the CBI, IMF and Bank of England governor Mervyn King. "Will you listen to them, or to the people that got us into this mess in the first place?" Cameron asked. Already the arguments for the next general election are starting to take shape.

Britain's economy is flatlining and the coalition's 'plan A' is about to be tested once again. Is the opposition really giving as good as it can get?