2 Mar 2011

Ed lets Dave off the hook – to Tory disappointment

As Prime Minister’s Questions resumes after its half-term break, Peter McHugh finds Ed Miliband letting David Cameron off the hook…again.

Ed Miliband - let David Cameron off the hook (Getty)

“He is our leader. We will never leave him. We will never let him go,” she shouted, as the clock ticked towards 12.

The viewer was confused. Was the woman in a burqa Theresa May with a new line in coats? Was this reality or just another Dave dream?

Actually, it was the BBC News Channel at a Gaddafi revivalist meeting in Tripoli. PMQs was on BBC2 and it was a Dave dream.

Reality was the House of Commons, packed but strangely silent, as it always is when trying to work out how to play the pesky foreigners card.

Having been off last week for the half-term hols and a less-than-well-thought-out trip to the Middle East with a clutch of arms salesmen, Dave looked slightly more nervous than Colonel Gaddafi.

It was Harold Macmillan who said: “Events dear boy, events” were the bane of all Governments and Dave must have pondered on this as he wandered around the desert rather than Whitehall.

Add to the mix his call for a no-fly zone on the same day redundancies were announced in the RAF and further sabre-rattling as more job cuts were confirmed in the military and you could see why his side were less than voluble as PMQs got underway.

The cheers were so thin Gaddafi would have had them taken out and shot.

Ed Miliband had been showing some signs of getting his act together recently after a less-than-impressive start as Labour leader. With the party’s lead in the opinion polls on the up and dissatisfaction with the Government at its lowest since last May, he had everything to play for. But he cocked it up again.

He started off well enough, with a couple of silky questions on Libya and a little nudge on redundancies and no-fly zones. Calm always works well with Dave, since his advisors believe bluster is always the best way out and never more necessary than today, as he really had nothing to say. In fact he had so little to say that his deputy Nick wasn’t even there to hear him.

But then again – as Nick said he “forgot” he was in charge when Dave was out of town during the start of the Libyan crisis – his absence this time may have been requested.

Dave had to put up with the equally-unimpressive Foreign Secretary William “Colonel Gaddafi is on his way to Venezuela” Hague looking on as he stumbled his way through his answers.

In fact he was so nervous he lost his temper on his own, trying to generate a row for his supporters to come to his aid. The cheers were so thin Gaddafi would have had them taken out and shot.

So there he was: cornered, on the ropes,chin available for the knockout punch and Ed…sat down!

Convention has it that the Leader of the Opposition can ask up to six questions and Ed has developed the style of often asking three on one subject and three later on another. The trouble is he sticks to this routine whether he has Dave on the run or not.

Relief all round

The relief on Dave’s face was only matched by that of his back-benchers, many of whom – embarrassed and unhappy at the defence cuts themselves – have no objection to their leader getting a good kicking.

Ed popped up later to question Dave on domestic policies but by then the moment had passed. He tried a charge of disloyalty to colleagues on the PM, but Dave merely smiled as he harpooned the Labour leader with references to his own brother, David.

And he kept smiling as the rest of PMQs passed quickly and even his own side conceded he had got away with it once again.

Dave was off and running as soon as PMQs finished, leaving Ed behind to listen to an “urgent” statement on the armed forces redundancies demanded by Labour – leaving many wondering why he could not have made more of it earlier.

Peter McHugh is the former director of programmes at GMTV and was last year awarded the Royal Television Society Lifetime Achievement Award.