PMQs sketch: Ed couldn’t keep away from the boos
Conservative cheering couldn't drown out the memory of boos which greeted George Osborne at the Paralympics earlier this week.
There is nothing more damaging to a politician. Short of actually throwing eggs at the chancellor (presumably those had been removed by security) the Great British Paralympic spectators poured their scorn on Osborne in what might end up being the audio clip of the year.
This was supposed to be a fresh start for the prime minister after the end of the long summer recess. He was back for the first PMQs with a brand new frontbench team and a new feelgood British public, buoyed by an Olympic spirit of goodwill. Only it didn't last long, did it? The warm glow of euphoria had well and truly evaporated as soon as Osborne dared show his face. Even Gordon Brown was cheered by the Paralympic crowd. If you're less popular than New Labour's last prime minister, you know there's something wrong.
Nor was the restart really a clean slate. On the frontbench there sat Andrew Lansley, looking thoroughly miserable now the days of tucking his tie into his shirt on hospital visits are over. Forgotten, but not gone. With his exception there were few of the new team present. There sat William Hague, and Ken Clarke, and George Osborne.
There was not even any time for Cameron to get into his stride before Osborne came under fire. The very first question he faced was from Prehistoric Labour's Dennis Skinner. "This Cabinet reshuffle of his 'b-team' hasn't raised a ripple with the general public," the Bolsover-saurus declared. Nobody does finger-jabbing quite like Skinner. "Whereas on the other hand," he continued, "those loud boos that greeted the chancellor will haunt the posh boys forever!"
It was time, in Skinner's considered view, to call a general election right away. Cameron resorted to the worst form of humour in response. "I'm sorry when I was forming my government of all the talents I couldn't find him on my speed-dial," he chuckled.
The prime minister has solved his Heathrow third runway headache by replacing Justine Greening with Patrick McLoughlin. Afterwards Miliband's spinners were claiming the move showed the PM at his weakest, but Cameron felt like the Labour party ought to be pleased. "I have taken a miner and put them in the Cabinet and they're running the railways!" he joked. The Tories laughed, sort of. It was what passes for humour in Westminster.
Ed Miliband, who is supposed to play a prominent role in these proceedings but often finds himself relegated, played this one by the book and suffered as a result. He picked up on Cameron's pledge to cut through the "dither" and turned it against him. He mocked the PM's "crimson tide". And he too couldn't keep off the boos.
"The Paralympic crowd spoke for Britain," he declared, to hearty cheers from Labour MPs. Osborne performed his celebrated impersonation of a three-year-old desperate for the toilet as he squirmed and wriggled on the government frontbenches. There is a real sense he is becoming the bogeyman of the coalition.
His shadow, Ed Balls, couldn't keep himself to himself. His latest gesture is something like a Jedi mind trick, a waving of the hand towards the frontbench accompanied by a shake of the head. Cameron made the extraordinary claim that Miliband makes the coffee first thing in the morning. This shows just how "assertive and butch the leader of the opposition is".
Miliband's jaw dropped. His eyes rolled to the heavens. He let out a low moan of disbelief. Butch?! Ed M has been called many things, but that is one word that has probably never been linked with him until now.
Miliband had the last laugh, though, along with the entirety of the opposition benches, when Cameron made the most preposterous statement of the session. "We are a strong and united government," he declared. The Commons – even normally loyal Tory and Lib Dem MPs – couldn't help but grin and laugh at that.