Thursday, October 14, 2010

No knockout, but the Ed corner celebrates a PMQs points victory.

Ed Miliband's first PMQ was important because he was not elected by the majority of his own parliamentary party, so it was important that yesterday didn't end with a feeling of buyers remorse.

And, whilst I could pick holes all day at his stilted delivery, there can be no question that he won the battle on points.

Searching for Mr Cameron's weak point, the Labour leader decided to go hard on the decision to withdraw child benefit from higher rate taxpayers. He described last week's announcement as a "shambles" and, reflecting the political zeitgeist, not "fair".

Mr Miliband wanted to know how many stay-at-home mothers would lose out. When Mr Cameron didn't offer an answer, the Labour leader played a prepared card: "I may be new to this game, but I thought I asked the questions and you answered them."

Awarding the Prime Minister "nought out of two on straight answers", he said: "We should try to change the tone of these exchanges, but he must provide straight answers to straight questions." Later he deployed the best joke of the session, saying the child benefit announcement at the Conservative Party conference had been such a mess that Mr Cameron must have wished that the aborted BBC strike had gone ahead.

The Prime Minister's pre-cooked lines were less effective. Welcoming Mr Miliband to his new perch, he hoped that he would stay there for "many years to come". But it wasn't a new gag. George Osborne, the Chancellor, had used it against Mr Johnson the previous day.

Jubilant Labour MPs toasted their new leader in the Commons bars last night. But old heads knew not to get too carried away. "One session down, only four and a half years until the election," one quipped. They also knew that Mr Cameron would not underestimate his new opponent again.

My favourite moment was when he quoted Cameron stating that he "liked" child benefit and wouldn't change it at an event billed as "Cameron Direct".

It's early days, but he made a good start. He punctured the notion that Cameron is a straight talker. Cameron plays on this a lot, and it's simply not true.

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