There are only eight more weeks of Prime Minister’s Question Time before the end of this Parliament. With the long election campaign well underway, these remaining weeks offer a set piece each week for the two party leaders to hone their respective election attack lines.
Today’s PMQs had an aura of familiarity about it, with Cameron and Miliband exchanging blows on the economic record of the coalition government. After the first couple of exchanges between Cameron and Miliband, it would have been easy to switch over to ITV thinking “seen all this before”. And indeed we have.
For those closely following the election, it feels like the rhetoric has become stale, with the parties marking out their territory and vowing not to go off message. Looking at the latest polling from Lord Ashcroft released on Monday, though, shows that 27% of voters are paying little attention to the campaign so far, while 22% are not following it at all. The fact that nearly 50% of the electorate are yet to tune in properly to the campaign illustrates why PMQs on Wednesday felt like a repeat – because not enough voters have even considered the arguments for the first time yet. The parties need to stick to their respective scripts.
Listening to the exchange between the two contenders for Prime Minister, however, was not a completely fruitless task for those already engaged with the election. And we came away from this week’s PMQs learning a couple of things that we will no doubt see unfold in the coming months.
Miliband’s opening question pro-actively sought to diffuse the issue around the delay in the publication of the Chilcot inquiry highlighted that events are still key. The legislative agenda may have all but dried up, but Cameron and Miliband’s own fortunes are potentially still at the whim of events outside their control. Miliband quickly sided with Cameron calling for the report to be published as soon as possible, while Cameron did not miss the opportunity to highlight Miliband had previously dragged his feet over the inquiry.
The Conservatives also know a damaging report which is highly critical of Tony Blair released just prior to the general election would be a gift. Sadly for Cameron it will not be published this side of May. Other potential banana skins in the Eurozone, Ukraine and the Middle East still threaten to derail an orderly campaign though.
On the day when the Office for National Statistics reported a further fall in unemployment, Miliband still hit Cameron with the line that the Prime Minister has denied the cost of living crisis. Cameron responded highlighting the rise in wages and disposable income, but the line from Miliband highlighted that although he is using the cost of living crisis less than 18 months ago, he is wedded to the notion. How the cost of living debate evolves over the next few months is arguably the most significant and most unpredictable part of the election campaign. Will voters feel the impact of rising wages and low prices in time for May?