PMQs verdict: After two months, Cameron still has no answer to Miliband's price freeze

Ed VS Dave: The Pm still has no answer to Miliband's demand for a price freeze
Ed VS Dave: The Pm still has no answer to Miliband's demand for a price freeze
Ian Dunt By

David Cameron came to the Commons today well briefed and brimming with confidence. Last week's drubbing at the hands of Ed Miliband would not be repeated. Tory MPs were in a particularly ferocious mood, filling the Chamber with noise.

And indeed his performance was much improved. He was even able to counter Miliband's attacks with some well-picked quotes and stats. But after two months, Cameron still has no answer to the Labour leader's promise to freeze energy prices. And it shows. As the session wore on the prime minister became increasingly angry. At points he even appeared unhinged.

He used every weapon at his disposal in a scattergun attack on the Labour leader, hoping at least some would hit their target. Few did. He attacked Miliband for switching energy suppliers, which seemed particularly desperate. He quoted a supplier's criticism of the price freeze policy, which was disingenuous. And he branded Miliband a "one trick pony which has run out of road", which didn't make any sense.

Miliband was equally well briefed, quoting opposition-leader Cameron's much more robust rhetoric against energy firms, or January-2013-Cameron's defence of energy levies. But the Labour leader was not on good form and he was presented with the daunting spectacle of an explosively angry prime minister and a wall of noise from the Tory benches. At points he resembled a harassed puppy.

But no lack of charisma will undo the fact that Miliband has a killer idea. It is the very definition of George Osborne's much-touted but little-seen 'weaponised policy'. All the Labour leader really needs to do is stand up every week and demand Cameron freeze energy prices now.

"Nothing less than a price freeze will do," Miliband shouted across the Chamber. It is an excellent line. It is simple, firm and perfectly sized for the news bulletins. It is a one-step thought, instantly understandable to the public. It gives the sense of a leader attacking the government on behalf of hard-done-by consumers.

Cameron's response is that it is not a price freeze but "a price con" and "economically illiterate". It is a three-step thought, which requires him to explain that firms will put up prices before and after a freeze. It's no competition for Miliband's brazen strategy. Even on a day like today, when he is well-briefed, confident, enjoying thorough support from the MPs behind him and a Labour leader having a bad day in front of him, Cameron still can't win on energy.

Labour MPs failed to make anything of it. He was there for the taking, but they refused to aim. The time remaining after the leaders' exchanges was dominated, today more than ever, by planted questions. PMQs is now a parody of executive scrutiny. And the irritating thing is they're not even doing it effectively. The Labour attacks were far too broad to do any damage.

"Was Royal Mail undervalued?" one Labour MP asked. She might as well have just raised the topic for discussion. Very few MP contributions had any bite. Peter Hain was an honourable exception. "Since most green levies were put in place by this government," he asked, "why is the prime minister attacking himself?" If Labour MPs were all of his calibre they could have finished the prime minister off.

Cameron repeatedly tried to accuse Labour of not asking questions about the economy. He should be wary of this approach. For the public, who are smart enough to be uninterested in fiscal policy or whether Keynes is wiser than Hayek, these are questions on the economy. It makes Cameron look out of touch.

Verdict: Miliband 2 Cameron 1


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