Today’s Parliamentary Questions was a lesson in how brutal these weekly sessions can be. Ed Miliband’s tactic was to ask why hedge funds were not paying stamp duty on stock market transactions until he received an answer. Labour knows Cameron won’t directly engage on shadow banking tax policy, thus leaving him exposed to accusations of protecting his donors.
Labour had a game plan for this session and Miliband stuck to it; however, he lacked vocal support behind him to keep up the momentum of asking the same question six times, and David Cameron is too nimble to be cornered by such a battering-ram approach.
Miliband’s attempt to ‘paxman’ Cameron on one issue was initially successful, however, it also presented the Prime Minister with an opportunity to try five different answers and deliver the various quips that his PMQs briefing team (the lethally quick Meg Powell-Chandler) had developed beforehand.
Cameron’s zingers ranged from the Chuckle Brothers to Simply Red, but the pick of the bunch was a reference to yesterday’s interview when Ed Balls could only answer “Bill somebody” when asked for a name of a Labour-supporting businessman. Cameron came back with “Bill somebody is not a person, bill somebody is Labour’s policy.”
Joking aside, there was a rawer edge to this PMQs than in previous weeks. The Labour backbenchers looked strangely tired, possibly reeling from the Ashcroft polling that painted a nightmarish picture of Scotland this morning. The Conservatives smelt blood, and cheered and laughed at Cameron’s bravado; in response, a handful of Labourites barracked the Prime Minister for his links to wealthy donors. It was not a dignified affair, even by PMQ’s usual standards, which can make a bar-room brawl look like a Venetian soiree.
Before today, there were only seven PMQs left in this parliament, and both sides need to think about which voters they need to focus their attention on between now and then. Many voters are ‘issueless’, many will never actually vote. That leaves you with those who haven’t picked a party but are willing to turn up to the booth, and those who support you, but are unlikely to actually cast a vote for a number of reasons.
Today was unlikely to win over either of these voters for Labour: If you already supported Labour, it was not enjoyable to see the party leader fail to land blows; and if you’re undecided, then you didn’t learn anything new about the party.
There was no discussion of policies; there was no mention of how to improve life in the UK. Neither party offered a vision of hope or progress; all we saw was party sniping and (admittedly well-delivered) zingers.
The Conservatives will look on today as a ‘win’, however, voters are more likely to look on today with a feeling of despair.